52 Ways to Show I Love You: Aging with Joy
Years bring shifts in priorities and perspectives which can enrich our loving.
Posted June 4, 2017
Delia Ephron, one of my favorite authors, published a touching essay in The New York Times about her discovery of passionate, nurturing and enduring love when she least expected it. When they met, she and Peter were both in their early seventies and had suffered loss and grief. Ms. Ephron had buried her beloved husband of 54 years and also her cherished sister, Nora. Peter, the man with whom she had had three dates when she was 18, had buried his wife.
They both quickly realized the blessings of romantic love at any age. My own love story that began 21 years ago when I was 52 is described in Miracle at Midlife, my memoir about a two-year transatlantic courtship. I have written about both romantic love and midlife love in earlier pieces for Psychology Today. Ms Ephron’s moving essay inspires me to comment further on discovering and especially showing love as we age.
What changes in romantic love when we grow older?
Aging matters: Our priorities change. Laura Carstensen’s research program shows that as we age we move from preoccupation with instrumental relationships that are transactional — building a career or establishing a family life in a community, however one defines “family” or “community”, for example— to valuing relationships and experiences that bring us joy or comfort or self-respect, perhaps a sense of purpose. We become happier. David and I would have walked right past each other when we were 18 years old. By our fifties, what we saw in another person had changed. Ms. Ephron was not ready for the man her sister had introduced her to when she was a young intern; the next chapter in her life lay elsewhere. This time around, 54 years later, she and Peter were both ready. “La La Land” may speak to the young. “Something’s Gotta Give” shows priorities of older lovers.
- We can become willing to do things we could not have imagined we would ever do — to grow, to change, to fall in love again. In Ms. Ephron’s case, it was visiting the Grand Canyon, remarrying. In mine, it was closing a thriving clinical practice, moving far away, and living on a converted barge moored in the center of Paris with an expat American attorney. Love can spur us on to exploring new paths for growing, opening parts of ourselves that we have set aside, that had no place in our former lives.
How does aging change the ways we show love?
- We may take chances we never would have taken. We know that regrets can be more painful than “failures” or “disappointments”. We better recognize our impulsivity and when it is triggered by a desire to avoid a situation or emotion that we do not like or by when we are seduced by a shiny bauble or opportunity destined to bring painful lessons.
- We can differentiate between that impulsivity and those impulses that come from deep within, from our hearts, our very souls. “He takes my breath away” describes an experience of pausing to reflect on the invisible dimension of loving, of stopping time. The consequence is reflection, a new perspective, being able to recognize another human being’s unique resonance to one’s soul.
We understand and accept that loss is part of the package. When we are young, we feel invincible and invulnerable. The inevitability of grief rarely reaches our radar screen. With age, we have coped with loss. We know that separation, most likely by death as Ms. Ephron points out, will bring another round. But we also know that fear of that pain is insufficient reason to avoid taking the risks intrinsic to loving another person.
- We know that what we really have are the present moments. Hopefully, we have learned that “The past is history, the future is mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present”. How sad it would be to miss the joyous moments in the present — and someone with whom we can also share the more painful, fearful ones that may arise — because of an unknown future. Loving beats running away, every time.
Have you noticed changes in the way you experience love as you have aged? Have the expressions or demonstrations of love you receive changed? Are you reassured by those moments in which you have successfully coped with past challenges? Does their memory give you hope that you will be able to do so again, when they occur in the future? Have you come to terms with who you are and what you need and how you react to challenges and opportunities?
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower
Visit me at www.miracleatmidlife.com