Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60
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.
Order Gray Love from Rutgers University Press or Amazon.
Mac Marshall, PhD is a retired anthropology professor, researcher, and author who is delighted to explore sexuality studies at this time of his life.
VIM Wand from Fun Factory review
It’s long, it’s strong – it’s VIM, the new vibrating wand from Fun Factory! VIM, Fun Factory’s first wand vibrator, is strong and rumbly. When I say strong and rumbly, I mean STRONG AND RUMBLY, even thuddy! This is a good thing. Buzzy doesn’t work for me. VIM never gets close to buzzy. It starts rumbly and stays rumbly, no matter which of the 5 speeds or 3 patterns I choose. The head is weighted for extra rumble.
Both handle and silicone head are covered with a wavy textured design. This makes the handle soft to the touch and easy to grip. The wavy texture of the head may appeal to you, but personally, I would have preferred smooth. The waves do hold lube better, but to me, the waviness doesn’t add particular pleasure and even makes it a tad rough for delicate aging skin when used for an extended time. I can’t say textured or smooth would be better for you – different strokes (literally) for different folks.
More about VIM:
I’m always asking for controls that are easy to see without reading glasses. Bonus points if they’re easy to feel with eyes closed. VIM comes through with both. Press the Fun Factory button for on or off. Press “+” or “-” to cycle through the 5 speeds and 3 patterns. The buttons even light up when VIM is powered on.
VIM comes in bright Sunrise Orange or vibrant Midnight Blue. The neck is flexible, so you can press at the angle you want. Note that although VIM is relatively quiet compared to other wands, it gets louder if it’s well lubed and you press hard. VIM is water resistant (not waterproof, so don’t take it into the shower with you). Use with plenty of water-based lubricant.
USB recharging is easy with a strong magnetic connection. Unlike many vibrators (including some others from Fun Factory), the connection holds tightly and won’t accidentally disengage.
Fun Factory’s marketing says, “Vibration stays in the head, not the handle.” As a 79-year-old with arthritic wrists, I don’t agree. True, there’s far less vibration in the handle than in the head. However, the handle does conduct vibrations, and the closer to the head you hold it, the stronger the vibrations to your hand. The very end of the handle has very mild vibrations. But the wand is heavy – 15.2 ounces, almost a pound. So why would you hold it at the end, 12 inches away from its destination, making it heavier on your wrist? I find it easiest to hold close to the middle of the handle, where the controls are located. I certainly felt it in my hand.
VIM comes in a glossy cardboard box, but no storage bag. As a luxury wand at a luxury price, it should come with a bag, Fun Factory!
VIM vs. Magic Wand:
For the wand connoisseur, let’s compare VIM, the Magic Wand Rechargeable, and Magic Wand Mini. For intensity, the MW Rechargeable is the strongest on the highest of 4 settings, but most of us don’t ever need to get to that highest setting. VIM definitely competes for intensity with 5 levels, and is the most rumbly and thuddy at all speeds.
VIM has the slimmest handle, great for small hands. But see Caveat above.
- VIM: 15.2 ounces
- MW Rechargeable: 1 pound, 5 ounces
- MW Mini: 9.7 ounces
- VIM: 12 inches
- MW Rechargeable: 13 inches
- MW Mini: 9.5 inches
VIM for penises, too
VIM loves vulvas, but if there’s a penis in your life, don’t be greedy – share your VIM. Our Shamus MacDuff reports enjoying VIM on his penis, first up and down the shaft and scrotum, and then concentrated on his frenulum when he’s sufficiently warmed up and ready for a happy ending. He reminds us that his favorite Fun Factory toys are the versatile Volta (his top favorite for solo and partnered penis pleasuring) and the Manta.
Fun Factory, based in Germany, is one of my favorite sex toy companies, specializing in well-made, long-lasting, colorful, multi-use vibrators with unique, often playful designs. Thank you, Fun Factory, for sending me VIM for an honest review. Purchase your VIM from Fun Factory here.
Special for Joan’s blog readers:
15% discount with the code JOAN
for all Fun Factory products!*
Kissing Scars by Tch
Note from Joan: “Tch,” who is in his early 80s, sent me this with permission to share it with you. I love his attitude, his ability to adapt, and his dedication to sexual pleasure for his partner(s) as well as himself. May we all grow old with this zest and wisdom!
I’m old. Over the last few years that has become more and more obvious to me.
I don’t regret getting old. I’ve had a really good time getting here.
And life is still good.
If you are old like me, you have likely noticed the signs. Scars on both knees filled with titanium, a missing molar, thinner skin, sags. I told my urologist the other day that my penis seemed a little blotchy. He smiled and ran his hand down my leg and said, “Looks a lot like the rest of your skin.”
My reason for seeing him was to check on my penile implant which makes my blotchy penis do what it used to do on its own. Another scar where the implant was inserted. I fondly remember the days when “waiting” to cum used to take a Herculean effort. Now, the reverse is true.
Let me tell you a little about scars.
They are the price we pay for the experiences of life, good and bad. I don’t begrudge for a minute the titanium knees. The original set carried me faithfully through many a tennis match, hikes into the wilderness, scuba in the depths, farming, building, carrying grandchildren, life.
I have noticed that some my age try to hide their scars and other non-youthful signs. “Cover up” is often the motto of the day. And so, many older people miss out on the beauty of getting older.
I am so much better at pleasing a woman at my age than I ever was as a young or middle-aged man.
What used to be a 15-minute rush (exaggerating a bit on the high side) is now a lovely hour or more with time to spend on all those places that used to be missed in the urgency.
My wife and I are swingers. We are in our early eighties. We have really good sex with each other and with other couples when we and they choose. Younger people might imagine that we can’t possibly be as enthusiastic about sex as they are. They should be excused for their inexperience.
What some of us older folks know
Scars got us where we are. They are not repulsive, but endearing. Scars of childbirth and life saving surgeries, reconstructed breasts, blotchy skin, and too many pounds all come with age. They can all be the path to intimacy beyond what youth can know. Kissing a scar can lead to trust and understanding that only the old can fully appreciate.
Please allow yourself the recognition that great sex, at any age, is about sharing, touching, giving, honoring, and loving. When you share those with your partner, scars and imperfections are paths to sexual intimacy.
The “Ick Factor”: 2006 vs 2023 Sexuality and Ageism
“It’s important to realize that the Ick Factor doesn’t just hurt seniors who might read Yahoo comments or overhear a joke or criticism. It hurts anyone of any age who believes that sex is just for the young. I’m here from the Land of Old to tell you that if you disparage older-age sexuality and close your mind to aging with zest and spice, this attitude hurts you. We’re not old, expendable excuses for human beings: we’re you in a few decades.”
I’m super proud of “Senior Sex: Yes, Old People Get It On, Too,” which I wrote for Queer Majority. I hope you’ll read and share it. I talk about the Ick Factor, the attitude of much of our society that the idea of older people enjoying sex is ludicrous, disgusting, icky. I’ve been fighting that attitude since I started doing this work in 2005. Every time I think that people have grown to accept older age sexuality — after all, if we’re lucky, we’ll all get old! — I’m blindsided by proof that the Ick Factor is alive and thriving. In this case, it was encountering horrible comments on a lovely, age-positive, sex-positive Yahoo News article. I hope you’ll be as appalled as I was when you read them.
I’d like to tell you about an earlier example of the Ick Factor.
It started splendidly on Dec. 1, 2006, when I was interviewed by ABC Nightline for a segment on senior sex and dating. The segment went beautifully. After it aired, my website traffic tripled; my blog traffic quadrupled. I was exhilarated! Hurray, senior sex is discussed on network TV and people want to know more!
Then on Dec. 5, 2006, two satellite radio shock jocks – I’d rather not give them the publicity of naming them – got wind of the topic and read ABC’s synopsis of the show aloud, punctuating their reading with “eeewwwww” and lewd comments. When they learned that I had a blog about, in their words, “old people having sex,” they were totally disgusted. They tracked down what they called the “old lady sex blog,” reading my blog posts aloud for 11 minutes, making even lewder and viler comments as they read. They made fun of a male reader who wrote me his personal story of trying to have sex with a new woman after divorce, prostate cancer, and Viagra, for example, saying about him, “Emasculated nothing!…”Stinks in bed!…C’mon old puddin’ prostate!”
More samples of their comments:
- “Disgusting whore of a granny!”
- “You want to have a sex life? Check yourself into a home and lie face down as the orderly makes his rounds in the morning.”
- “Wear a condom, I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s!”
- “Break her hip!”
Meanwhile, their fans, who ran a message board about the show, also located my blog and started visiting it and posting comments. I foolishly had not set up a moderation requirement at that time, and people were free to comment at will. I opened my computer that day to find 40+ ageist, racist, sexist, and otherwise just plain vile comments. For example, they wrote what they’d like to do to Granny – in what position and with what force – before pushing her down the stairs. I spent the afternoon finding and deleting the horror show.
What does this kind of behavior indicate about our society? Why is it that ageist stereotypes are just fine, old people are acceptable targets, and all of us past middle age are supposed to retire our sex drive and need for intimacy and just settle into… what? … just being “old”?
Many thanks to Queer Majority for helping me turn this attitude around and fight the Ick Factor in 2023. Will you join us? I invite your comments (moderated, just so you know).