By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
Regina Dreyer Thomas declares flatly, “My boyfriend is six years younger than I am but I’m hardly a cougar.”
The pair met in 2006 at a retirement community she’d moved into six months after the death of her beloved husband and soulmate of 30 years.
Studies have shown that love in the autumn years has many health benefits – offering everything from diminishing stress to lowering the risk of dementia in old age. At this stage, though, love isn’t about wild passion or building a family. Regina, the author of Love & Successful Aging When You’re 70+ and Single, says of her current relationship, “Art and I live separately and have no interest in marriage – I’ve had enough husbands (two, an early union ended in divorce); he’s had enough wives (also two, both ending in divorce).”
That doesn’t mean there weren’t obstacles. Regina explains, “I was worried about how my son would react, not to mention grandkids. But I figured if they disapproved they’d either get over it – or not. When you’re over 70 your job is not to dwell on past lives, but to be in the present.” Luckily she got the seal of approval from the young’ uns.
Regina sniffs in disdain at those who think the older set has outgrown a yearning for intimacy. “It’s the idea of lying in someone’s arms and kissing and being cared for, whether or not it ends in sex. Even someone pushing a random hair away from your face – the need for these things doesn’t fade with age.”
However, some seniors don’t outgrow unrealistic expectations, according to the author. She notes, “I meet older singles who have a laundry list of what their other half should be, all based on fantasy.” Regina ticks off, “He should have money, he shouldn’t be sick, he has to be taller than me…These people aren’t really interested in finding someone.”
For those who are open to love, she offers three wise tips:
*Don’t compare. Memories are wonderful, but this new person isn’t your former beloved spouse. Enjoy him for who he is rather than yearning for what he’s not.
*Set boundaries. Regina and her beau see each other five times a week. They don’t want to ruin the romance by sharing a bathroom or arguing about who left the dirty dishes in the sink or who has to clean the kitty litter. (She’s not the biggest fan of Art’s feline.) They are not pooling finances, and if one gets sick the other will not be the primary caretaker. “Our kids would have power of attorney and if it’s necessary to find a facility that would be up to them.” These rules needn’t be your rules, but it’s important for both people to have similar outlooks and goals.
*Be proactive. Regina says, “Seniors tell me they wouldn’t know where to begin to look for someone. Go to a discussion group, sit next to someone interesting at a restaurant. The major point is to get out of the house.”
The moral – it’s never too late, it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings. Or, as Regina more elegantly phrases it, “You have to give yourself the freedom to love again!”
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based therapist, speaker and author of 3 books, including "The Complete Marriage Counselor": Relationship-Saving Advice from America’s Top 50-Plus Couples Therapists (Adams, 2010). Her website is www.marriedfaq.com.