Many couples meet, date, and begin lives together after age 50. Former editor and art therapist Carol Denker has interviewed and photographed over 60 couples who found love after midlife. She published selected stories and photographs of new love in old age in her new book Autumn Romance: Stories and Portraits of Love after 50. Denker, 65, met her current husband at age 62 online. U.S. News asked Denker for some insights into finding love during the retirement years. Excerpts:
What is different about dating after age 50 compared to when you were younger?
You have a past and you have a life. Also, you have learned you can’t change anyone. A lot of people have learned they can be open in a relationship.
Why was it particularly important to you to capture photos of older couples in love?
My original thought was to show how beautiful it is. You always see pictures of younger couples and people who are very physically beautiful kissing and hugging, but you never see pictures of older people who may not be as physically beautiful but who are interesting. You age, that’s just what happens. We kind of get fooled into thinking I fell in love with her because of her beautiful blonde hair and she is physically perfect. What I learned is really the body is just the vessel and it really is someone’s spirit that you fall in love with.
How did you meet your husband?
I met my husband online. He was the kind of person I had been looking for all my life. He is very adventurous, intense, and openhearted. Right before he was supposed to come meet me in person I had this kind of panic. I don’t have the same body I used to. I used to have these perfect thin arms and small waist and now I have wrinkles on my forehead. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this.” But the romance was very intense and it had nothing to do with how young I looked.
Do older couples tend to meet online or at more traditional venues?
It could happen any way. Some of them met online like I did. I did over 60 interviews and about a fourth of the people met online. A lot of them met through activities like line dancing or had taken a class together. I have five couples in the book who knew each other when they were younger and then found each other years later. One couple attended a talk together. One couple met at work and had been friends. Some was just happenstance.
How do former spouses and children factor into the new relationship?
It is not as complicated as you might think once you have decided this is just going to be for me. It is not to please my kids or my parents. A lot of people’s children were not that excited at first, but once they see how happy the parents are that just kind of fades. My kids have things to say, but this is not the same as when they were younger and you would do anything to make them happy. In a way it is like your job is done and you can just be yourself. You realize you have 20 or 30 years left and you are going to be happy in them.
How do you balance feelings for a deceased spouse with beginning new relationship?
There were some people I interviewed that I didn’t put in the book because clearly they were more concerned with the husband or wife who passed away. The key is to be able to really be in the present.
What advice do you have for older people looking for love?
Even though you are older, don’t rush into anything. Take this time, if you haven’t already, to figure out who you are. Do things you like, think through what you want now, and take a chance.