Last fall, near the end of two performances at Youville House and Youville Place, professional storyteller Norah Dooley asked residents to recount their first kiss. At both performances, the room filled with giggles as people approached the microphone to share their memories.
One resident recalled kissing his wife while under water. When Dooley remarked, “I’ve never done that. How is it?” the man simply replied, “You ought to try it!”
Memory always seems to perk up when recalling the key moments from our earliest romances. But what if Dooley had also asked residents to recount their most recent kiss? Would the room have filled with as many giggles and stories?
Just as we have distinct memories of our earliest feelings of affection, we also retain the ability to develop new romantic attachments in old age. Yes, it’s true: The capacity to get “crushes,” to feel giggly in the presence of an object of admiration and to fall in love often survive into a person’s 70s, and sometimes their 80s and beyond.
In 2011, Rose Pollard, a 90-year old native of southern California, walked down the aisle with her boyfriend of 30 years, Forrest Lunsway.
The couple had met at a senior center some 30 years prior, when Rose was 60 and Forrest 70. At first, Rose was resistant to the idea of marriage and, perhaps jokingly, told Forrest that she would marry him on his 100th birthday. Thirty years later, true to her word, Pollard tied the knot with Lunsway on his 100th birthday. Their combined age of 190 makes them the oldest newlyweds in recorded history.
Of course, not every couple lives to a combined age of 190, and not all centenarians would consider themselves eligible bachelors. Having an active love life and leading a healthy lifestyle seem to feed into one another – if you’re in good health, then you’re more likely to retain an interest in romance, and vice versa. As we live healthier, longer lives, we enjoy by extension healthier, longer love lives.
"As we get older, we go through tremendous losses," says marriage and family therapist Helene Van Sant-Klein. "We lose parents and spouses and friends. Establishing an intimate relationship in older age presents another opportunity to gain connection and feel that sense of significance and belonging."
For many, the death of a spouse or significant other can leave one partnerless, with decades of life ahead. As more people find themselves in this position, the market for senior dating and courtship grows.
Today’s Trends in Senior Romance
One effective catalyst for senior love is the presence of peers: Assisted living and retirement homes offer single seniors like Rose and Forrest the perfect opportunity to meet and, just maybe, set off a few sparks. Like Rose and Forrest, many senior couples are not anxious to get married right away.
A noted study by Susan Brown, professor of sociology at Bowling Green University, examined the growing phenomenon of romantically involved seniors who make the decision to move in together before making any marriage plans. Data from the U.S. census shows that the number of unmarried seniors living together has almost tripled over the past 10 years. This is striking behavior for a generation that would have thought cohabitation outside of marriage unspeakable in earlier life.
Among the senior couples surveyed, the most common reasons for moving in together and resisting marriage had to do with finances. Many widowed seniors have their finances tangled up with a deceased spouse’s. Marrying anew can further complicate one’s financial picture, and also ruin a person’s eligibility to receive pension benefits.
People also fear that late-life marriage might strain relations with children and complicate inheritance plans. For this growing group of cohabitating seniors, there’s no rush to get married; simply living together enables them to enjoy life together without hassle or complication.
You may have heard about the rise of online dating – the growing popularity of web sites that connect singles based on personality surveys and online profiles. What you may not know is that among users of dating websites, seniors are the quickest growing demographic.
According to Mark Brooks, an online dating consultant, the number of seniors joining dating web sites has been sharply on the rise since 2003, increasing every year at a double digit rate. This probably has much to do with the fact that people are living longer, healthier lives, as well as the expanding reach of technology into our lives.
Curious? Here are a few dating web sites designed for seniors:
This Valentine’s Day, remember: Love doesn’t discriminate against age. As we live longer, healthier lives, seniors are showing that they are just as susceptible to Cupid’s arrows as the younger generations.