Just as new ways of meeting are sometimes very different from those earlier patterns that older adults grew up with, so the very relationships that may result are quite different from the engaged-married-live-together-forever lockstep of their parents. All kinds of new forms of togetherness have emerged in today's fluid, mobile society, and elders have only to look around attentively to see some of them.
One notable new pattern for older lovers is the romantic friendship, a new feature in the relationship landscape of most conventional Americans, though not unknown in other cultures around the world.
As always, the French have a word for it: amitié amoureuse is what they call that quite contemporary situation in which a couple -- either gay or straight -- are not married and do not even live together all the time, but are, nevertheless, unmistakably a couple. They may maintain separate residences, but often share deeply in each other's family lives with children and grandchildren; they may live in the same town or city, or perhaps live a thousand miles apart and have a commuting romance. Sex may be an important part of the union, or it may be fleeting and intermittent or absent altogether.
An eighty-year-old man, John S., who lives a ten-minute drive from the home of his seventy-four-year-old "significant other", Nancy T., says,
"Our romantic friendship gives both of us a lot of space and time to ourselves, but offers intimate pleasures and comforts as we all get older and our circle of friends inevitably diminishes."
Romantic friendships are especially attractive to the women in such partnerships because, frequently widowed, they may want a breather from daily rounds of homemaking.
Women past sixty often have a history of such intense family caretaking over such a long period of time, sometimes punctuated by exhausting nursing duties, that a fast spin back to twenty-four-hour domesticity is not as appealing as it is to many men in their age group who are used to twenty-four-hour on-the-job wives.
Whether previous caretaking responsibilities are the issue or not, many women simply want the time for interests, talents, and hobbies they never had time to pursue before. Here, too, it's difficult for many men to quite accept that a prospective partner might wish to stay free for her painting classes or travel or yoga workouts and might not want to be available for company on a daily, hourly basis.
But in spite of the old hangovers from earlier relationships (men wanting to he cared for in a domestic setting, etc.), men and women are increasingly establishing loving friendships that are fun, exciting romantic, and sexy -- but don't mean necessarily a wedding ring or yet another new domicile to furnish.
One seventy-eight year old man explained,
"Romantic friendships are somewhere between sexual ecstasy and best pals, between having the earth move, and putting on old sneakers to take a walk together."
Looking at today's greatly changed and expanded world, it seems clear that for women who reject the notion that plump grandmothers have nothing to say about adventure, romance, or different new lives -- and for men who can break free of the narrow world their work often imposed on them -- the outlook for new seasons of love and passion to the very end of life is brighter than we've been gloomily brainwashed to believe.
©2000. Excerpted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. http://www.nwlib.com.
Seasons of the Heart: Men and Women Talk about Love, Sex, and Romance after 60
by Zenith Henkin Gross.
The author offers a refreshing look at love after sixty, encouraging people to leave preconceptions behind and explore their own models of romance and relationship.
Info/Order this paperback book.
Zenith Henkin Gross, 75, has worked as a journalist for more than thirty-five years, both as a freelancer and for the Associated Press. She is also the author of And You Thought It Was All Over: Mothers and Their Adult Children.