By Abigail Trafford
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
"It wasn't the lowest of times. I was somewhere below that," recalls Don Gold, 62, who was living in Little Rock and slouching toward Medicareland with an empty heart. His first marriage had ended after seven years; his second marriage, after 25. Both relationships turned out to be very painful. He'd given up "all hope of ever finding contentment" with another person.
Feeling washed up at 40? No chance to find true love after 60? Think you've missed out on ever having a satisfying relationship?
You might get another chance. Don met a woman in rural Texas who had also suffered in previous relationships. After a courtship of several years, Don and Cynthia married about a year ago and seem to be living out the happily-ever-after dream -- at last.
Thanks to longer, healthier lives, more men and women are able to start a new relationship at older ages. To be sure, many are content to remain single after a divorce or the death of a spouse. But for people like Don and Cynthia, the new not-old age is an opportunity finally to get it right with a partner.
Successful dating for that generation requires more than mutual attraction -- namely, self-awareness. Gray lovers have to come to terms with their pasts.
Don had burned out in his previous marriage. Memories of it take him back to an incident when he was a child, caught in an undertow at the beach. He was pulled down by the high-top sneakers his mother insisted he wear into the water.
For what seemed like an eternity, he kept bobbing up and down, raising and lowering his arms to catch a breath, letting himself go in the rhythm. Eventually, he said, "I managed to kick off the accursed sneakers" -- and was rescued by a lifeguard.
"More than 30 years later, this was what my life had become" in the suffocating marriage, Don recalled, "somewhere beyond treading water, just holding on without really caring." He became aware that he had to kick off the legacy of marital unhappiness the way he kicked off those sneakers.
Cynthia, 67, also had to overcome an unhappy past. Her marriage of 24 years was a mismatch, she says. Her husband was a tax lawyer; she is a poet. She waited until their children were grown to get a divorce. After the breakup, she was on her own for more than a decade.
"I dated a lot," she says, "never anything permanent." She lived in South America for several years, then returned to her small home town in Texas to take care of her mother. All the while, she gained a surer sense of self and a readiness to try again in another relationship.
At this stage, it doesn't make sense to wait for a silver-haired prince or princess to come along. Don and Cynthia each decided to find a partner, long before they ever got together.
Cynthia says she was looking for "deep understanding and spirituality; an adventurous spirit, financial security, good health." Don recalls looking for "someone more solidly rooted in analysis and realistic thinking," he says. "I tend to be flighty and shoot from the hip in decision-making." To a friend he confided his dream: He and this ideal woman are seated in the kitchen, looking out the window and discussing the spiritual significance of life.
Both became proactive in their search for a mate and turned to the matchmaking Web site eHarmony. The online service allowed them to search for mates beyond their geographic areas and to get to know each other in the safety of cyberspace.
EHarmony and Match.com, another online service, report that men and women older than 50 are the fastest-growing segment of their memberships.
"Older people are very serious about relationships," says Galen Buckwalter, vice president of research and development at eHarmony. Many have been married before and are searching for a significant relationship. "Older folks are using our service at much higher rates to get married than younger people."
For weeks Don and Cynthia e-mailed each other, filling in the blanks of their lives, revealing their needs and desires. "There would be no immediate gratification, no reckless abandon," Don says. Finally the moment came to meet in person, and Don visited Cynthia in Texas.
Cynthia arranged their first date at a quaint bistro overlooking a stream. Don stayed in a motel and after three days together, she told him: "I really like having you around."
He never really left after that. They found the spiritual connection so important to them, and they discovered sexual fulfillment after decades of frustration. "We were meant to be," Cynthia says. "We go with the flow. I've taught him overseas travel. He taught me motorcycles."
And every morning they have their morning ritual of coffee together at the kitchen table, looking out the window at a garden of flowers and welcoming the next day's adventure of married life.