I have a dear friend who has been a widow for three years. She recently told me that special days, like her birthday, Valentine's Day or her anniversary always make her feel depressed. She knows that no one would ever love or pamper her the way her husband did. And that sobering fact always makes her really sad.
I let my friend verbally cry on my shoulder for as long as she needed to. Then I looked her directly in the eyes and said: "I know that you feel very alone right now, but experience has taught me that you never know who or what might be right around the corner. I'm willing to bet that you won't always feel so lonely." She didn't know it, but I had just finished reading the latest data about people who fall in love later in life (sometimes much later). Statistically, she stands a good chance of once again becoming a much-loved wife.
There's no doubt about it: Romance among retired folks is definitely on the rise. For some, it may be a matter of loneliness, financial need, physical longing or merely a desire to feel loved again. Whatever the reason, there are far more 60-plus couples on the relationship landscape than ever before. And while the topic of senior intimacy might be uncomfortable for younger people, when it comes to the elderly there are a variety of measurable benefits for togetherness. And perhaps the most important bonus is that elderly people who have a lover or a spouse tend to enjoy longer and happier lives.
Ten years ago, NPR's Connie Goldman published "Late-Life Love: Romance and New Relationships in Late Years," an insightful book including interviews with 22 older couples who were in love. In her words: "Late-life love — along with the challenges, joys, and pleasures of re-mating in the later years — continue to enrich the lives of so many. A colleague once told me that those of us in the winter of our lives can still find summer."
Of course, lots of people over 65 are definitely not hoping to find a new partner. Many widows and widowers aren't looking for love because they are preoccupied with mourning the death of their spouse. But according to the Pew Research Center, in 2013 67 percent of individuals aged 55 to 64 had entered a "subsequent marriage."
This statistic shows a 12 percent increase in the number of older remarriages since 1960. Additionally, 34 percent of adults ages 65 and older had remarried in 1960, but by 2013 that number had climbed to 50 percent. And 33 percent of newlyweds over age 55 were entering their third marriage in 2013.
I know three lovely women — the youngest is 64, and the oldest is 77 — who have lost their husbands within the last few years. Much to my surprise and delight, they have each found an attentive, serious and worthy sweetheart, almost effortlessly. Their beaus' ages range from 60 to 91! Right now, none of them are contemplating remarriage, but they all admit that it's wonderful and comfortable to have a male "companion and escort" for dinner dates, movies and weekend getaways.
Two of these women had husbands who experienced lengthy illnesses before their deaths, and they became their husbands' loving primary caregivers for the last two years of their lives. My third friend lost her husband of 40 years to an unexpected heart attack. I was surprised — and relieved — to see these women respond so warmly to their new sweethearts' romantic overtures. Obviously, the "widow's weeds" days, when women were punitively expected to mourn their departed spouse for the rest of their lives, are long gone.
Most widows and widowers today — not to mention those who are divorced — are anxious to reconnect and share their remaining years with a loving partner. Whether you are 18 or 80, love just might turn out to be the real-deal fountain of youth.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.