The Beauty and Joy of Growing Old Together

Senior couple together

People who think love is just for the young aren’t paying attention. In fact, seniors are often happier in their romantic relationships than people a generation or two younger. That’s especially true if they’re long-time partners anticipating a 40th, 50th or even 60th celebration of their time together.

Among older adults, those who’ve journeyed together through the years, there is an edge. Research suggests that long-time married couples are healthier, more prosperous, happier, longer-lived, and even have better sex than those who are going it solo or are in new relationships.

It’s true that the nature of romantic attraction changes with age. For many people, it’s better. A lot of long-time couples say they love their partners even more today than they did in the beginning when they’d just fallen in love and their heart raced every time the other entered the room.

Mature love remembers the past and looks to the future, but it really shines in the way it lives and loves in the present.                          

Living for Today

Some people believe the stereotype that older couples just sit on their porch rockers and dream of what used to be. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re often busy doing things they never had time for when they worked at paying jobs and were raising families.

You’re never too old to discover new things about this world and about each other. Travel becomes possible in a way that it wasn’t in previous times. Even those not prosperous enough to tour the world can spend their time driving around their state or the one next door, or visiting a small town festival or checking out the nearby tourist attraction that they never got around to. You don’t need a schedule or agenda when you’re spending time with the one you’ve loved for so long. 

There’s magic in spontaneously deciding to stop at a scenic cafe or a winery. A couple may discuss what they did yesterday or what they might do tomorrow, but what matters most is being together, present in this moment.

Activities they enjoy together become even richer: dancing together, engaging in sports, playing card games, taking a walk in the woods, stopping at a scenic overlook or watching birds build a nest. There’s even delight at doing things young folks poke fun at, such as going to restaurants for the early bird special or clipping coupons for a few bucks off at the drug store.

Senior couple under the sheets

Some people might think it unexciting to live with the same person for a lifetime, but here’s the thing: that partner isn’t the same person! People in healthy relationships are constantly evolving, and there’s always a new facet to see in each other. It’s beautiful to have loved a person through all the experiences of youth and middle age and to appreciate and love them still.

Older partners have a healthy perspective. If they have a spat, they recognize that every relationship has ups and downs and hard feelings won’t last forever. They’re less likely to worry about little things and quicker to let go of what’s unimportant.

People who’ve made it that far in their marriage appreciate what they have. They know couples who made each other miserable, who split up or who lost a partner to death.

It’s a wonderful thing to come down for coffee in the morning and to look across the table at someone who is on your side and loves you back. And who, wrinkles and all, is still attractive. That partner still has that special something that made you fall in love a long time ago.

When your partnership is lengthy, you’ve been through all the stages of love. You’ve experienced what it was like when you “fell,” when love was just something that happened to you. Somewhere along the way that feeling transformed into a decision. You decided to love, and love became something you actively do, by showing it.

Remembering Yesterday

People in healthy mature relationships don’t live in the past, but it’s fun to visit. There’s a lifetime of shared memories. Every wrinkle and every gray hair was earned by a history of work, play, and often of raising a family. You can recall the weekend vacation you took together when you were so young you barely recognize yourself in the pictures. There might be the memory of eating dinner at the picnic table in the backyard, a fine evening outdoors for you but a delight and thrill for your young children. You recall all the places you lived and all the cars you owned. You have a history of victory celebrations and of consoling one another in disappointments. There may have been a health or financial crisis or relationship problems where you can look back and be amazed that you pulled through it all, together.

You don’t have to recollect everything by yourself. If one of you doesn’t remember, the other might. Memories are more meaningful when there’s someone who remembers along with you.

You recall standing in front of family and friends with stylized clothes and haircuts that were fashionable at the time. You promised each other you would do this thing. You can joke about the people – surely there were some – who didn’t think you’d last three years. Best of all, you can congratulate yourself on having made the right choice and come this far.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Planning for Tomorrow

In contrast to what some think, many old folks do just fine with change. After all, they’ve dealt with plenty of changes in themselves and in their lives and they’ve come through. As long as they have their health, they can continue to explore and share together. They have their collected wisdom to pass down to the younger generation, not the least of which is the example they set on how you live and love over the long haul.

Seniors don’t have to be naive about what’s ahead. They can make plans for what they can do while they’re active and at the same time think about how they’ll manage as their health declines. They’ve always depended on each other, and that interdependence will be critical as they accompany one another through their final years.

Every step of the way, they make the most of what they still have. In the best of mature relationships, couples accept the changes in themselves and in each other. They are patient, understanding and loving when they can no longer function as they once did.

The best stories are ones that are told all the way from beginning to end. The end is not something to be hidden or thrown away; it’s an essential part of the whole.

One of the most poignant descriptions of growing older together comes in Robert Burns’s short poem, “John Anderson My Jo.” The old woman talks to the old man who’s her joy (or her “jo”). She describes how they climbed the hill of life together as shiny youths and had some memorable times. Then she concludes (with modern English words substituted for the obscure Scottish ones):

Now we must totter down, John,

And hand in hand we’ll go

And sleep together at the foot

John Anderson, my jo.

Beautiful and fortunate is the couple who lives the whole story and carries it to the grave and beyond.