Kayaking with my partner

I recently saw a touching documentary called The Age of Love. It’s about a speed dating event for 70-90 year olds that took place in Upstate NY, and it follows the participants before, during and after the event. The filmmaker, Steven Loring, is there when they get their feedback on who wants to meet them for a second time. It brought back memories of being in high school and wondering if I would get asked to the prom. And it got me thinking about how everyone wants the same thing, whether you are a senior in high school or you are a senior citizen.

The film got me thinking about the nature of love–what is it that’s so desirable about being in a loving relationship? What is the essence of love? And how does it compare with our culture’s portrayal? Is it the same experience for the young and old? No, I discovered. As we age, it only gets better. Dating after middle age brings a new freedom. The pressure to look like a cover girl is long gone. We can relax knowing that no amount of contouring makeup is going to make us look like a Kardashian. Instead, we might be choosing clothes that hide our upper arms.

In my podcast, Zestful Aging, I asked former top model Jill Dodd how aging has been for her. I expected some mixed feelings, even some feeling of loss. Instead, she exclaimed, “What a relief!” We’re not looking for a person who is “hot”. We’re looking, as one man in the film put it, for “a twinkle” in her eye. Love at this age is more about the deep connection we feel with another person who really knows us. It’s more fundamental.

A loving connection can feel more intense at this age because we’re not being pulled in so many directions. We often have more time on our hands. We’re not raising our kids anymore, and our lives with our mates are not centered around who makes dinner and who takes Johnny to soccer practice. We have more time to devote to the companionship and connection with our mate. We don’t have to designate a “date night” and we don’t have to go to the theatre to feel like we’re on a real date. Going to the farmer’s market or running errands can feel just as special when we’re experiencing this more mellow, deeper connection.

We all want someone to understand us, someone to listen to us, someone to accept us with all of our frailties. When the physical aspect of attraction is less important and we have to look past someone’s wrinkles, we’re focused on someone else’s humanity. That’s the enduring part of love. It’s the basic intimacy that helps us feel not so alone. Someone has got our back.

When we get down to it, we’re looking for the same things that 30 year olds are looking for. We’re just coming at it with different, more realistic expectations. And we’ve been around the block a few times, and hopefully have learned from our mistakes. If we’ve had difficult relationships–and who hasn’t–we are able to savor a positive one that much more. And we know that it’s important to trust our intuition, and pay attention to red flags. We’re probably more independent, and know that being alone is a lot better than being in a bad relationship. We’ve learned to be resilient, because we’ve had to be. So if the relationship doesn’t work out and disappoints us, we know we can survive.

At this age, we are well aware that most of our living is behind us. We know time is precious, and we are less likely to get into petty arguments with our companions. We know not to sweat the small stuff, and we’re more likely to stay in a grateful place. As seniors, we have developed the wisdom to know that change is constant and we can only count on the present. So our relationships take on more immediacy. We are able to be present and appreciative, and not get hung up on our partner’s annoying habits.

Being appealing to a potential mate is about being comfortable in one’s own wrinkled skin. There’s nothing more attractive than doing something you love, and radiating passion for life. It’s the twinkle in your eye that matters now. Are there additional ways love is better as you age? Do you think men and women see this similarly or differently? What’s the best part of being in a relationship now?