Age is just a number. I hear people utter this phrase from time to time, saying it with great conviction, even bravado. It sounds broad-minded and progressive. And I have said it myself. But do we really mean it? When it comes to partner relationships, does age really matter? At almost 50, after coming through a divorce and temporarily moving back into my parents’ home, something extraordinary happened to me: I fell in love with a man in his seventies. It was no accident, this age gap. I intentionally sought it out. And, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
About a year after my divorce, I had just begun online dating and was realizing that the most unique thing about this digitally-driven process was that I had so many choices; choices that an organic experience could never offer. I could specify exactly I wanted in a partner; everything from hair color to religious preference; these were things I had never considered with such conscious intention before. And when I was asked to choose an age range for a potential match, I clicked “60 to 75.” I had always wondered what it would be like to date an older man. I envisioned more self-awareness, more financial security, no young children, and a comfortable distance past the mid-life crisis. And their life experience would potentially be so much richer than that of men my own age. But what would dating a senior, single man actually be like? The answer would come in the form of a 72-year old man named Daniel.
We agreed to meet one snowy Saturday night at a little Italian restaurant close to my apartment. Serafino’s. We had a bottle of really good wine, fried oysters, and pasta with rich sauce. And great conversation. It was lively and bright without any ring of falseness. Daniel was handsome, with a full head of grayish-white hair and startling blue eyes; within him he carried the energy and brightness of a much younger man. He was authentic, sincere, and quietly joyful. Over the first, and then a second bottle of wine; we laughed, spoke intimately, and laid out the basic anatomy of our divorces. He said very plainly that he would never marry again; would never even live with someone again; that he thought I should know this upfront. I was a taken aback at first, given it was only our first meeting, yet this direct, unflinching honest was also refreshing. I said that was fine; and it was.
We saw each other exclusively for a year. And over the course of that year, I grew to appreciate all the things an older man can bring to a relationship. Though he was still very involved with his businesses, he made time together a priority. He gave me insightful advice about my personal and professional life. He was never afraid to be expressive about his feelings. He was unwaveringly honest. And what my mother had always said was right; it didn’t hurt that he was wealthy.
So I learned to appreciate good food, good wine, the symphony, travel abroad, weekends at the lake cabin; even the passion for racing his beloved classic cars was infectious. He was a passionate and generous lover, intent on pleasing me, and the sex was warm and joyous. We had an intense emotional bond and a gentle, effortless way of being together. I fell deeply in love. So much so that his initial edict of never marrying or cohabitating began to create in me some unexpected heartache. I could see this wonderful thing we had become expanding into a beautiful daily rite. Yet he was unbending, reminding me gently of his resolve when I’d occasionally bring it up.
In the end, our visions about where our relationship was going just didn’t match up. Yet there were no vicious arguments; no resentful, silent evenings; no pleading tears, no slamming doors. Like the rest of our relationship, the ending of it was full of something like serenity and acceptance.
Since then, Daniel and I have found our way back to each other in the surprising form of friendship. I have never experienced friendship with a past lover before, yet with Daniel it’s possible. I can’t attribute this to his generous and open nature alone, but to his age as well. Years accumulated on this planet, spent in this life, teach one that there is no one form of love that trumps another. So while it’s not in the form I’d hoped for, Daniel and I continue on. And I still love him; I would not hesitate to say this to him and to mean it fully in my heart. But it’s a different kind of love now – more temperate and more lasting than what we began with. It is perhaps even more meaningful than romance because it can’t necessary be shaken and potentially destroyed by expectations as passion is so apt to be. Daniel may be the love of my life, and I may always harbor the smallest hope in my heart that his resolve of “nevers” might soften with time. He may always be the one that got away; but I also like to think that in the end, he may turn out to be in the truest and broadest sense, the one that remained.