“How we write about love depends on how old we are”

Brian Rea for The New York Times

“How we write about love depends on how old we are,” observes Daniel Jones in his Modern Love column in The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2015. He explains:

The young overwhelmingly write with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Their stories ask: What is it going to be for me?

Those in midlife are more often driven to their keyboards by feelings of malaise and disillusionment. Their stories ask: Is this really what it is for me?

And older people almost always write from a place of appreciation, regardless of how difficult things may be. Their message: All things considered, I feel pretty lucky.

This last point hit home with me. As a sex educator, I hear people’s problems all the time. But I also hear the good parts — the humor and joy and sweetness of what happens when we love at our age. Those of us who are lucky enough to have found love at this time of our lives are radiant with joy telling our love stories — even if that joy is tempered with the sadness of loss.

I know I feel that way. On this Valentine’s Day, I’m remembering how my dear Robert made Feb. 14 a true celebration of love for seven years with gifts, cards, whispered endearments, languid lovemaking, and lots of laughter.

As sad as I am that I will never hold Robert again on Valentine’s Day or any other day, that feeling has nowhere near the power of the joy I feel that this love was in my life. It feels like a miracle that we ever found each at all, let alone so late in life.

Joan and Robert 2001

What if he had never wandered into my line dance class that eventful night? We might never have met, never have crossed paths.

What if I hadn’t been assertive (aggressive?) about making the first moves? He was content to see me as his dance teacher (which in itself is bizarre, since he had formal training as a dancer since the age of two, and I had no formal training at all), and he thought that was an uncrossable boundary.

What if I hadn’t dared to proposition him? (You didn’t know that part of our story? Read it in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty!)

What if we had never realized one of the most important themes of our love story: that the ways we were the most different were the ways we most wanted to grow.

You see, at first, we saw our personality clashes and independence as proof that we were too different to ever come together as a couple — it would be too much work, too many compromises, and besides, we were satisfied with the way we were, thank you very much.

Robert and Joan 2006

But over the few years we had together, this attitude changed. The closer we got, the more we came to respect our differences — even laugh about them — and the less we felt we needed to resist change. In fact, we discovered that compromise led to change in directions we each wanted to grow.

Once we saw our differences as an opportunity to grow in ways that would be as good for us individually as they were good for us as a couple, we stopped resisting, reframed what we were willing to do for each other, and we blossomed together and apart.

What did you learn about love and about yourself in later life? I hope you’ll share your experiences.


  1. Anonymous on February 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Finding love again? Indeed.

    Half way thru your 50+ book Joan; loving it. Yes and so much yes. That's what I wrote in the margin about whether it was worth ending, closing off with kindness a dead marriage of 28 years; to find love again. And sex again. I lost all material things, my home and and church and more. All very much worth it. Loved the spirit of your When Intimacy Ends chapter. Married again 8 yrs now penniless but happy, I make my beloved promise she will love again if and when I die first. I make her say it out loud: "I promise." Life is too short to love without intimacy and connection and sexual joy. Joan, you inspire!
    -Dan, 67

  2. Anonymous on February 15, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    What a touching read, and oh so very true. I had settled into life as a single senior, happy to have survived the wars of learning hard lessons. I was keeping my eyes open for a man to enjoy being with but felt adamantly unwilling to live with a man. "After all", I said to myself, "why put myself through all the compromises and leave the comfortable security of living my single life just as I chose to?"
    Then I came across Alan. We have some differences that could have been deal breakers, but we also have a bond of love that overrides any other considerations.
    I am now in a place of feeling secure in true love – secure in the knowledge that he loves me just as I am and appreciates me just as I appreciate him.
    The perspective at this age is so very different from when I was in my 20's or after. Love is so very sweet when you find the right one, regardless of when it is. But finding it at age 68 confirms the Universe was listening. I am listening too – to every nuance of finally finding true love.
    Never give up being open to finding love.

  3. Anonymous on February 15, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Yes and yes. Gratitude. And, the fear is gone. At 67 I've lived long enough to to have another lover next door cuckold me, or divorce take my love away. I know love is NOW. The Man In The Dark Hood will take some day and I/she will be alone again. The future is knowable now. And sex is better, love is sweeter in this knowing.. I've never lived with less fear, gotten laid so often, felt so loved, tried so many wonderfully nasty things with her!. What you say in your books is true. It gets better.

  4. Toni Goldfarb on February 15, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Thanks to my wonderful husband of over 50 years, I live in gratitude for each day we have together, but also with the realization which you've described, Joan, that it's only through amazing good luck that we found each other and have shared such happiness. My message to younger people is not to fear that their love will grow stale, but to keep their eyes open for the many older people they'll see walking arm in arm or smiling across a restaurant table. Seeing is believing the joy you, Sally, and many others have expressed on this website and in your excellent books.

  5. Sally Wendkos Olds on February 15, 2015 at 4:19 am

    Joan, thank you for this beautiful post. And I love seeing the photos of you and Robert, so happy together. Although I too miss celebrating Valentine's Day with my loving and beloved husband, who died five years ago, I feel so grateful to have had all our years together — almost 54 — and to have enjoyed such a wonderful life with him.

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