The month dedicated to hearts and flowers is the perfect time to celebrate romance—no matter what your age.
American culture may be fixated on youth and beauty, but the real experts on keeping love alive are often several decades older. Like Monarch Landing residents Doris and Bill Bettin, who met as students at Morton High School in Cicero and married in 1957, senior couples have long since worked through their conflicts and hit their happy stride as a couple.
“We always managed to talk out our differences,” Doris said. Indeed, researchers find that senior citizens cite communication, along with honesty, companionship, respect, positive attitude and faith as the most important qualities of a successful romantic relationship
Looking back over 50 or 60 or more years of marriage, senior citizens are often happy to share their wisdom. Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University gerontologist, collected the impressions of 700 elderly wives and husbands in his book, 30 Lessons for Loving.
His sources, who had been married a collective 25,000 years, kept returning to seven specific recommendations for not just surviving, but also savoring the wedded state. They valued being polite and respectful spouses, embracing their partner’s interests, and prioritizing the marital relationship over parenthood. They regretted losing time to worries that never materialized and emphasized the benefits of sharing core values with their spouse.
Monarch Landing residents Curtis and Joan Everett met and married in college. Despite their youthful start, they built a strong, 66-year marriage on shared values. Joan, who Curtis describes as a “very tough woman,” explains it this way: “If you understand the other person, it’s easier to compromise.”
Jean and David Curtis, who also live at Monarch Landing, recalled the emotions surrounding their wedding day, a Tuesday in 1965. “I was really, really, really excited and totally convinced it was the absolutely right thing to do,” said Jean. David wiped tear from his eye as he remembered being at dinner with the men from the wedding party and realizing, “I’m getting married.”
His wife is “a great partner, a great wife, a great mother,” he said, stopping short of adding an accolade concerning her personal affection for him.
Researchers confirm that sexuality continues unabated for more than a quarter of Americans between 75 and 85, while 70 percent of the over-75 set believe there’s no such thing as being too old for love.
Even couples who struggle against major health challenges find ways to keep close. Shelly Appleton opted to take an apartment at Monarch Landing that is only a four minute walk from his wife Betty who lives under the same roof, at The Springs healthcare center health. The living arrangements allow the couple to continue to spend precious time together, singing, enjoying the outdoors (weather permitting) and visiting.
Meanwhile, seniors who have lost their life partners are finding low-pressure ways to find companionship and even romance. One option is speed dating, an activity more commonly targeted to younger singles, but which is catching on among seniors in some locations. It gives men and women five minutes to chat with a member of the opposite sex over snacks and drinks before moving on to the next brief “date.”
One thing is certain, the desire to love and be loved doesn’t have to diminish with age. As Byron said, “There is no instinct like that of the heart.”