At age 53, Betty, a never-married X-ray technician from Coeur d’Alene, ID, was growing discouraged. She’d had a few romances over the years but had yet to meet The One.
“I was starting to get like, ‘Hmm, will I ever meet anybody?’” Betty says. “I felt in my heart I would, but then when you don’t, you start to lose hope. I tried going to singles dances, singles breakfasts. My next step was going to be singles night at the Safeway. Love among the produce,” she laughs. Instead, she joined Match.com, met a warm, funny entrepreneur named Verle and became a first-time blushing bride at age 58.
What are the odds?
While conventional wisdom would have you believe love or lust only happens to 20-somethings (or moody teenage vampires), many singles find The One well into their 40s, 50s, 60s… or beyond.
Statistics on late-in-life marriages are hard to come by (and marriage is not always a barometer of true love), but the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the median age for couples getting married for the first time has steadily risen over the past few decades — from age 20 and 22 (for women and men, respectively) in 1950 to age 26 and 28 in 2009. Data from the ACS (i.e., the federal American Community Survey Report) also shows 33 percent of those who wed in 2009 were age 45 and older. Tellingly, Newsweek retracted its much-touted claim about women over 40 having a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting hitched.
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Dr. Stephen Treat, CEO and Director of the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, says the topic of late-in-life love comes up a lot in his practice. “I’ve talked to many, many couples about this,” he says. “I even had a 90-year-old who came to me and said, ‘I’ve never been married before and I want to get married.’” She’d fallen love with an 81-year-old man. Apparently, love really can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Joan Price, the sixtysomething author of Better Than I Ever Expected and Naked at Our Age, says she met her “great love” just as she considered throwing in the towel. “I became invisible,” says Prince. “I still met interesting men, but they would look over my head at the young, fertile women behind me. After a few years of that, women tend to think, ‘Well, it’s over.’ I wasn’t resigned to that, but I was considering it.”
But then a handsome stranger danced into her life — literally. “I was teaching a dance class and this gorgeous white-haired man came in,” Price says. “And once he fixed his ocean blue eyes on me, I was a goner.” Price, then 57, began a slow courtship with Robert, age 64: “On our first date we kissed like a couple of teenagers.” The two were married four years later. What advice does she give singles who feel left out of the love loop? “Be adventuresome, but also to do the things you do anyway, the things you love,” says Price. “People said, ‘You’ll never meet a man line dancing — it’s mostly women,’ but I met a man who loved to dance.”
Betty, who met her current guy Verle online, says staying positive is key — as is staying active. “Don’t give up, but don’t sit around waiting, either,” says Betty. “I’m very outdoorsy; I bike and walk and hike and cross-country ski and garden. And I love music and going dancing with my girlfriends.”
Taking a chance on people is crucial, as well, Betty says: “I think it’s good not to be too judgmental when you’re looking at people. Be open-minded. Maybe there’s somebody you don’t think you’re interested in, but that person might surprise you. It’s hard to really convey what you’re like in just a couple of paragraphs.”
Of course, finding love is only half the battle. Learning to live with it can be complicated, too. “When you’re older, you’re much more territorial,” says Treat. “You’ve been around, you’ve developed your own patterns, your own comfort levels. You don’t have the same social flexibility as a 21-year-old single. You probably haven’t shared responsibility or bathroom space or routines with anyone for a while.”
Treat encourages couples — particularly older couples — to sit down and hash out their respective roles and responsibilities before they try to combine households. “Talk about who vacuums the living room, who buys the English muffins, who pays the bills, how you spend the money and what you do on Saturday nights,” advises Treat. “Do this before you marry or move in together. If two 50-year-olds are getting married, they need to know how the mortgage is going to be paid and whose paintings will be hung and how each one defines personal space. None of this stuff needs to be scary. They just need to be able to probe it and talk about it openly together without getting upset.”
Revvell, a 60-year-old natural health educator who married for the first time at age 55, says having another person around all the time was a big adjustment for her.
“When my new husband first spent time with me, I couldn’t wait for him to leave,” Revvell says. “I wanted my house back, my privacy back, my life back. But the more he came over and the more we got to know each other, the more I didn’t want him to go. Now that we’re married, it’s sort of weird. I like that he’s leaving, but I’m lonely when he’s gone.”
Plus one (or more)
Falling in love late in life can also mean you sometimes get a bonus addition in the form of a child (or children, possibly even grandchildren). “I’d gone from having a succession of long-term girlfriends to these utter duds,” says Stephen, a 55-year-old opera singer and musician from Brooklyn. “It was inexplicable. I was convinced I would never marry.” Then Stephen tried online dating and met Val, a widowed mother of two who was smart, funny and engaging. Before long, Stephen was smitten. “We got along fantastically, plus her kids were just so well-adjusted,” says Stephen. “The four of us had such fun together. It was irresistible.” Much to the surprise of Stephen’s loved ones (“They thought I was a confirmed bachelor!”), the couple tied the knot in 2004. “I went from living alone to being immersed,” says Stephen, now a stepfather to their two daughters, ages 11 and 14. “I love it, but I’m also occasionally shocked by stuff,” laughs Stephen. “Like doing the kids’ laundry. Those doll-sized pieces of clothing don’t even look like something a human could fit into. Plus, all that hair!”