Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60
ed. Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood
Reviewed by Mac Marshall
“We are stunned sometimes when we realize how old we are. Eighty-one and eighty-eight! How I wish we had decades left, but we’re both aware that one of us could drop like a leaf at any moment no matter how healthy we are right now. And we’re also aware that this relationship could not have worked if we were younger.” — Barbara Abercrombie in “Where Is This Going?”
In lively personal accounts, 45 contributors to Gray Love explore the ups and downs of their searches for new relationships late in life. These authors range in age from 59 to 94. Most have experienced divorce or widowhood. Their stories underscore our strong human longings for connection, sexual pleasure, and abatement of loneliness as we grow older. Gray Love offers both cautionary tales and reasons for hope.
“Meeting someone informally through family, church, or neighborhood networks has been in decline since World War II,” editors Nan Bauer-Maglin and Daniel E. Hood note in their Introduction. Now, meeting new people online has displaced all other ways to locate potential dates.
The first half of Gray Love (“To Be or Not to Be in a Relationship”) focuses on a variety of seniors’ often disheartening experiences with online dating sites. And yet, in “You Say Potato,” Amy Rogers comments, “Without an ability to imagine some sort of future happiness, we’d have no reason to put ourselves through these hapless and sometimes heart-breaking endeavors.”
While they understand that this is the best current way to find dates and possible partners, 22 single seniors chronicle a litany of being frustrated, ignored or rejected online. Several have engaged in online dating for a decade or more. For example, Elizabeth Locke laments in “A (Mostly) Amusing Exercise in Futility”:
“Fifteen years of throwing money I can’t spare at websites whose only real purpose is to fill their coffers was frequently a waste of my time. But it wasn’t a total loss; I had some truly delightful evenings and way too many mediocre meals… I crossed paths with men I would not have otherwise met. I formed attachments that teetered on the edge of love, experienced at least one heartbreak, and made a few friends… I learned to cope with an almost unimaginable dose of rejection.”
These seniors aren’t fully happy or at ease with the quasi-businesslike procedures of meeting people online. In“Discovery Through Online Dating Sites: A Woman’s Perspective,” Phyllis Carito writes, “The process can be daunting or fun; it can reveal the deep sadness of a widower or the hidden desires of a man that can be a surprise to him depending upon past experiences molded by a traditional marriage.”
Several contributors have gone in and out of online dating or tried several different sites. All had meetings with other seekers, most had some sexual encounters, some developed temporary relationships, but few found “the one” that many of them seek.
But some have done so! The second half of Gray Love (“The Complications and Pleasures of Elder Relationships”) delves into cases where widowed or divorced seniors did find a new life partner. Usually, this happened via the online dating sweepstakes. Most partners have chosen not to marry. Instead, they simply
revel in the joys of a loving, caring, intimate relationship, whether cohabiting or not.
“That night, all night, we lay on my king-size loft bed, with its view of the river, our seventy-four-year-old bodies smoothed magically young again by the forgiving light of yet another full strawberry moon.” — Dustin Beall Smith, in “At Once”
Several couples have chosen to live apart together (LAT), an ever-more-popular arrangement among seniors that combines independence with committed togetherness. Writing in “Pleasures and Complications: Living Apart Together,” widowed, 80-year-old Susan Bickley met her 7-year-younger partner, Mike (also widowed) on Match, and they clicked. He had a big old house. She had a recently purchased condo and wasn’t keen to share it. Luckily, another condo in the same building became available. Mike bought it and sold his house. Now, in Susan’s words, “We are finding joy in small things… knowing that we are here for each other, even when we are apart—and down the hall.”
Gray Love chronicles a search for connections, sexual and otherwise, in life’s final chapters. Most contributors live in or near New York City and have backgrounds in education. These characteristics lend their tales a certain flavor. Most stories were written amidst the COVID pandemic, and the shadow of that still-with-us event hovers over their searches for dates and relationships. As a reader, you will learn much about the road ahead by engaging with these seniors as they share honestly some of their life experiences.
Mac Marshall, PhD is a retired anthropology professor, researcher, and author who is delighted to explore sexuality studies at this time of his life.