Falling in love at age 60 is reminiscent of love at sixteen—just as exciting, and just as risky. Washington Post columnist Abigail Trafford quips: “It's wonderful to realize that you're never too old to fall in love, but wise to remember that you're never too old to fall apart in love.” Trafford spent a year at the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University interviewing couples over age 50 about their personal love stories. She published those stories in a book released this month called As Time Goes By: Boomerang Marriages, Serial Spouses, Throwback Couples, and Other Romantic Adventures in an Age of Longevity. U.S. News asked her to share some of her dating adventures. Excerpts:
What's different about dating in your 50s, compared with your 20s and 30s?
The biggest difference is you have some experience. You already have a love story inside you. You're a lot freer. You've completed your adult tasks, which are to raise a family and establish yourself in the community. In your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you have a really long to-do list. By the time you get into your 60s and 70s, you have a kind of confidence that comes with experience. You are freer to define the kind of life you want to lead. That's a wonderful bonus for relationships. You put a premium not on scoring with someone, but on connecting with someone and being who you really are. When you're young, there's a lot of pressure to find your mate and settle down. Once you're in your 50s and 60s, you don't have that pressure. The urgency is to make friends. You're dating for fun.
How do you balance commitments to a deceased spouse with beginning new relationship?
People who decouple again after having had a relationship before are able to embrace the past relationship and then move on. I think one of the dangers is that second relationships feel that they are in competition with first relationships. The man and the woman need to be very comfortable acknowledging that each person had a past life. The key is to have confidence in who you are in the relationship right now. Remember the past, but also don't let it weight you down.
How do kids from previous relationships come into play?
You redefine your relationship with your adult children. They are no longer a dependent child, but someone who is also an adult who you can be very close to. They may think it's cool that Grandma goes out on a date or [that] adult children may be protective. They want to make sure that their mom is not going to get hurt or their dad is not going to be taken for a ride. Adult children are usually happy that their parents, who have become single from a death or a divorce, are going on dates and have someone special in their lives.
Do baby boomers and seniors frequently look up old flames from high school or college?
This happens quite frequently. Sometimes people wonder what has happened to someone they had cared about so many years ago. Sometimes it is part of a reunion of a college class. Sometimes people look them up with the Internet. You go to your hometown for a funeral and you run into that person's family. It's a way that older people like to write their narrative of relations and make a coherent story
What dating mistakes are baby boomers and seniors making?
In the research that I did, finding a partner and being part of a couple is not enough. You really need a network of friends and family to enrich your life. You should have about eight or 10 people in your circle. If you get below three, you may become quite isolated.