May 7, 2011

USA: Finding the right companion is always challenging

BOSTON, Massachusetts / The Boston Globe / Lifestyle / Relationships / May 7, 2011

Not too late for love

Finding the right companion is always challenging,
but these seniors met their match

Frederick and Augusta Williams married 10 years ago.
When they met, he was a widower and she was a divorcee.
(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

By Mindy Pollack-Fusi
Globe Correspondent

Sylvia Glickman sits on a pale yellow couch in her Newton apartment next to her husband of nine years, their hands intertwined, her silver hair framing her face. She smiles wide and glows like a new bride when speaking of finding true love for the first time with her “much younger’’ husband, Nat Butner, 81. Sylvia is 90.

“I didn’t expect to get married when I came here,’’ she said of Golda Meir House, managed by Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, where they live. “I thought I’d give it a couple of years then go ‘down under.’ I couldn’t ask for anything better. He’s a wonderful man.’’

Butner, a retired US Post Office clerk whose first long marriage ended in separation not long before his wife died, gushes over his bride. “From the time we met,’’ he said, “to me it was like I didn’t know anyone else but Sylvia.’’ He writes her daily love letters.

Sylvia received marriage offers when she was younger but chose to focus instead on her social-work career. “You’re lucky if you find someone that you really love at this stage in life,’’ she said.

“This stage of life’’ is the so-called golden years, and Glickman and Butner, who met in their building, are just one example of local couples proving that, as the song says, it’s never too late to fall in love again.

That said, when talking about finding a new relationship at the age of 65 and older, a variety of issues can loom. Many people are dating again only after a spouse has died. And grown children may be uneasy about an elderly parent who’s looking to make a love connection. Of course, not all single seniors want to partner up, and not all who do find someone new to love. According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 16 million Americans age 65 and older are unmarried, with the pool of men diminishing the older one gets, since women tend to outlive men. (Male life expectancy in the United States is about 75.5 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For women, it’s approximately 80.5 years.)

But for those who do desire a relationship, opportunities are there, according to AARP’s love and relation ships expert, Dr. Pepper Schwartz.

“It’s common if you go and try and find it,’’ she said of elderly couples partnering up. “It’s not as common if you wait for it to jump out and land on your doorstep.’’

As evidence, she points to the “enormous pairing going on in nursing homes and senior living environments’’ and to statistics demonstrating that seniors use the Internet more each year, including online dating sites. (None contacted produced any late-in-life pairs in this area.)

Still, some women worry that a man of a certain age only wants a woman to cook, and some men reveal that the first question they’re asked on a date is: “Do you still drive?’’ In fact, that’s how Glickman and Butner met, when she needed a ride and Golda Meir House matched her up with Nat, who’s still driving.

Most couples we contacted say that the old-fashioned ways to find a mate remain most common: converting an acquaintance or friendship into romance; reconnecting with an earlier love; being introduced by a friend; or serendipity. Others met at dance socials, work, or religious or town organizations.

Going public with their new love can be a challenge, however, and some prefer to protect adult children saddened by parental loss or unable to bear thoughts of Mom or Dad involved in a new romance. And then there’s the dastardly issue of the will. Now that Mom or Dad has found new love, will the kids get frozen out?

“Children are jealous,’’ said Frederick Williams, 82, of North Andover, widowed in 1991 after 42 years of marriage. A lifelong musician, he married Augusta Williams, 70, 10 years ago. They met through a mutual friend, and his three adult children have struggled to accept his marriage, he says.

“You have to be able to separate the different loves — your wife is your most sacred part of your life. If you’ve raised children well, your job is done. The children may try to hold her in low esteem, but you have to be diplomatic about that,’’ said Fred, a romantic who buys his wife flowers every month on the date they met.

Augusta, divorced three times from “stormy marriages’’ and then single for decades, suspects that Fred’s children assumed she was a “gold digger,’’ because she owned jewelry and furs before the marriage, and, admittedly, loves to shop. “They don’t really know me,’’ says Augusta, a gentle, quiet-spoken former nurse and longtime breast cancer survivor. Meanwhile, her adult son is close to Fred and calls him “Dad.’’

According to AARP’s Schwartz, adult children are often uncomfortable with mom and dad “dating.’’ Since the will is often at issue, she says, couples should assure children that it is intact, if that’s the case. “Maybe you want to give this new person something, maybe you don’t, or maybe you should do a prenup,’’ Schwartz said.

“You don’t have to be one big happy family,’’ she continued, but couples “have a right to love, passion, companionship, whatever it is they want. The children don’t have the right to make them miserable.’’

Some adult children are happy with a parent’s new relationship, particularly because the parent is no longer alone — or calling with daily woes.

Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington was happy when her mother found love years after her father died.

“I was thrilled, because my mother was much happier and wasn’t alone,’’ she says about her mother marrying a longtime family lawyer and good friend 16 years ago, 17 years after her father died. In fact, Rabbi Abramson performed the marriage ceremony. “It was a really bizarre out-of-body experience,’’ she recalled. “Very strange, but good.’’

As with any relationship, companionship and common interests are major factors in late-in-life relationships. John Dodge, 87, and Connie Donovan Dodge, 86, married nine years ago after his wife of 49 years died of Parkinson’s disease. Dodge, a graphic artist who still runs Dodge Art, was ready to move from his Bedford home to Gloucester to start over in an artist community. Connie, a successful realtor who had sold both his mother’s and mother-in-law’s houses, took his listing.

A few days later, John asked her to dinner. She’d been content on her own for many years after her first two husbands died, she says. But after a pleasant first date, John invited her to dinner at his home, complete with candles, incense, soft music, and wine. What really attracted her, Connie admits, was when he shared his collections of graphic art and ephemera, including an impressive valentines collection.

“Anybody who has a valentines collection isn’t a bad prospect,’’ Connie said.

The truth is, being appreciated for who you are never gets old.

“Love is companionship,’’ says Butner. “Sylvia doesn’t find fault with me. In 11 years together, our next argument will be our first. She makes me feel like a real man.’’

Sylvia laughs. “You are a real man,’’ she says.

Mindy Pollack-Fusi

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.