Whether you’re 35 or 75, it’s never too late for romance and to fall madly (or gently and even sacredly) in love.
My mother met the love of her life when she was 84. A widow for nine years, she spotted Harold Lapidus, a retired doctor, standing alone at a bridge club. She asked if he wanted to play, and they became inseparable.
“He’s a younger man,” she told me.
“How young?” I asked.
“Oh…,” she said. “I think he’s 80.”
They’re still devoted to each other as my mother moves into her 90s, which fills me with awe. But do I have to wait that long?
I’ve been unattached for seven years and have become very good at it. I love my house, my work, and my kids, and every day I’m grateful for good health and what I see as a fortunate life. But sometimes I ache for a partner to check in with, talk, snuggle, and grow spiritually with. I’m afraid that in my 60s, after two divorces, such love may be behind me, as the pickings get slimmer every year. When I go to parties or events, there are 13 single women and one single guy, and he’s usually gay.
This depresses me, and I wonder if my mother’s experience was a fluke. But during the past month, I’ve talked to a dozen women, ranging from their late 40s to their 90s, who’ve found deep love—a soul mate—long after they thought that was possible.
Ellen Burstyn was alone for 25 years before she fell in love, at 71, with the man with whom she now lives, who is 23 years younger. Jane Fonda, 69, recently started a relationship with Lynden Gillis, 75, a retired management consultant, and wants to make a “sexy erotic movie about people over 70.”
As I listened to these stories, I felt…hope. And I wanted to explore whether this kind of love happens because of luck, karma, or accident, or if there are interior changes one can make or steps one can take to connect with a partner at any age.
What surprised me was that the women’s stories were remarkably similar. All had been afraid they were too old. They all relished their independence and had come to terms with the fact that they might never find another mate. At the same time, they’d done inner work that enabled them to feel worthy of love, ready to accept a man as he is and be accepted unconditionally by him.
Most see their relationship as a spiritual practice, an opportunity to work on hurtful patterns and expand their capacity to forgive. There’s less drama, they report, and more peace. Each woman feels her current partner is her beshert—Yiddish for “destined mate”—and that all her experiences, past relationships, and heartbreak were necessary to prepare her for this union.
For 25 years, Ellen Burstyn did not go out on a date.
“Nobody asked me,” she says.
I find that hard to believe, I say. “In 25 years, weren’t you attracted to a man, or pursued by one?”
“I was busy living my life,” she says. She worked constantly around the world, won an Oscar® for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and was nominated for five other films. She enjoyed being with her son, Jefferson, her friends, and her animals. Every so often, she would look around and think, “Where are all the men?” “I thought it would be great to go home and curl up in someone’s lap after a job, but I didn’t sit around crying about it. I made a friend of solitude,” Ellen says.
But this ease took her decades to attain. In her 20s, she’d been “promiscuous,” she says. “I’d gone from man to man since puberty and had three marriages that were all painful and ended in divorce.” She knew she had to heal the wounds that kept her repeating the same pattern with men, “so that aspect of myself closed up shop. I think I built an invisible shield that no one could penetrate.”
On a whim, she asked a woman friend if she knew a man who might be suitable.
“I’ll have to think about that,” the woman said.
Shortly afterward, this same woman was approached by a Greek actor who had auditioned for Ellen at the Actors Studio when he was 25 and she was 48. He confessed to Ellen’s friend that he’d been in love with her for the 23 years since they’d met.
“What?!” Ellen said, when the message was relayed. The Greek kid? But he was 48 now, attractive and a successful acting teacher. (She won’t disclose his name.) He sent her an e-mail, which she answered, guardedly. He wrote back, “I don’t see the word ‘no’ in this.”
They’ve been together for three years, living in her house on the Hudson River in New York. She says it’s been an easy fit, “which is startling because he’s from a different culture and a different generation.” One reason for that may be her new approach. “Most of my life, if a man did something totally other than the way I thought it should be done, I would try to correct him. Now I say, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting? You do that differently than I do.’ It’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. It allows for a stress-free relationship.”
She says they don’t plan to marry. “We have being in love right now. We know that life is short. Death is certain. And love is real. We’re going to enjoy every moment of it.”
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