During the last few months of her life, my grandmother Ruth, then 93, was too frail for family to adequately care for at home. With much reluctance, she and we all agreed that a nursing home was the best option. Within days of moving in, her positive approach to life and her gentle manner quickly won her many friends among fellow patients and made her a favourite of staff. She also won the heart of Juan.
Juan spoke no English. Ruth spoke no Spanish. But these two lovely people spent hours every day sitting side by side in the garden, hands clasped between the two wheelchairs. They’d point at birds and people of interest and smile and laugh. Both, who had been ill and failing, perked up considerably. The nurses, with a wink and a smile, reported stealthy night-time trips across the corridor that divided their rooms. Like the young lovers of songs and stories, they fooled no one and delighted everyone. It was wonderful to see them so happy.
Grandmother Ruth had had a long, comfortable marriage of 56 years but had been widowed for over 18 years. As much as she savoured the memories of her husband, as much as she was loved by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as much as she was hugged by family and friends, I learned that she had quietly longed for the loving contact of a romantic partner. “Oh, Marie,” she said softly when talking about Juan, “You don’t know how much I’ve missed being touched by a man who makes a fuss over me.” To which I replied, “You go girl!” – much to the distress of some of our relatives who thought the affair scandalous. But then, Grandma Ruth and I had been in cahoots about many things over the years.
I’ll be forever grateful to the nursing home staff who neither infantilized the two by calling them “cute” nor interfered. Juan and Ruth gave each other warmth, affection and love in a chapter of life when many feel that love and sex is long over. Love is decidedly not just for the young. Whether 15 or 95, we all long for emotional closeness and physical contact with someone who loves us.
The Dating Game at 60+
Want to find love again? If Juan and Ruth could light each other’s fires in their mid-90s, there’s no reason to think that you can’t find someone too. A few simple pointers may help.
Start with giving yourself a pep talk. One of the clear advantages of being over 60 is the self-knowledge that comes with it. Take an honest inventory of what you have to offer another person and feel good about it. Remind yourself that someone out there is looking for a person with those very attributes.
Don’t try to replace someone you’ve lost. No date wants to feel like a poor imitation of the real thing. You don’t want to end up disappointed because your date isn’t the long-lost twin of someone you’ve loved and lost. Let yourself enjoy looking for someone who is a new adventure, at least in some ways that matter.
Let friends and acquaintances know that you are open to meeting someone special. Birds of a feather really do flock together. Chances are that single friends of friends are people you’ll have something in common with. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the cousin of your best friend’s old college roommate is also looking but your best friend didn’t want to intrude. Once given ‘permission’, your social circle may well find the right person for you.
Be honest about what you’re looking for. If, for example, you just want a companion for an occasional movie or concert or lunch, say so. You don’t want to inadvertently lead someone on who is looking for a soulmate and sexual partner.
Consider online dating services as a way to enlarge your pool of eligible singles. If you’re not yet computer savvy, it’s way past time to learn. Sign up for a class or get your 8-year-old grandson to show you how to use the internet and email. (It really is so easy a child can do it. You can too.) Join up with a reputable senior dating site and start having conversations with other senior singles. Whether or not they turn into dates, you’ll be expanding your network and getting practice talking with strangers who can become friends.
Be reasonably cautious. Sadly, and no news to you, there are bad people in the world who look for vulnerable people to exploit. Don’t give out your name or address or phone number until you’ve had lots of talks online. Use an alias online until you feel safe. If someone starts to tell you tragic tales that end with requests for money, a place to live, or one of your kidneys, move on.
Trust your instincts. You’ve lived long enough to sense when something is ‘off’. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Someone who comes on too strong, who tries to contact you 500 times a day, or who threatens to hurt himself or you if you don’t return their ardor and devotion is probably not a good bet. As flattering as they can be at first, such people are often too needy and possibly too unstable for the give and take of a healthy relationship. Say a kind and gentle goodbye, change your online alias, and move on.
Know what you want. There’s no reason to settle for something else. If you don’t think you and a date or an online connection click, find a polite way to wish the person well as you send them on their way. Conversely, be willing to accept it when someone doesn’t think you’re the person of their dreams either. However nice you both may be, if it’s not a click, it’s not. You don’t want to waste your time developing a relationship you both already know will go nowhere.
When you find yourself wanting to spend more time with someone who seems promising, please remember that you both already have pretty full lives. It’s not necessarily personal when your new sweetheart can’t find another time to be with you until two weeks from Thursday – when you can’t possibly do it because your granddaughter is in a dance recital. If you get more committed, it will become both more and less complicated. More because you’ll be introducing each other to the families; less because you can go to family events together.
Don’t expect your adult kids to love your new love – at least not at first. They may be protective of you and suspicious of your partner. They may have strong loyalties to their other parent. They may be jealous of time spent with your partner’s family. They may worry that they will lose their inheritance. They may think you’re too old for love. Give them time to get to know your sweetheart and to get used to the idea that you two are an item. Give them reassurance by making sure your will is in order so that no one can accuse you or your partner of being a gold-digger and any inheritances are secure. If your new guy or gal is as special as you think, the kids will eventually think so too, especially if they see you happy.
When you do find that special someone you know you can love and who loves you back, go for it! Neither of you is getting any younger!
Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. is an author, licensed psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist who has been in practice for more than 35 years. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central’s Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.