I’m in early stage cohabitation with my new boyfriend, eyes wide open, living in his house in the woods after eleven years of being single, the past three in a studio apartment in the city. Things are quite good, but obviously quite different, very experimental — new home, new ways of spending my time, new emotions, new commitment. And I’m not just learning about him, I’m learning about myself, which is interesting, being that I’ve been with myself for 66 years and I didn’t think there was anything left to learn. But there is. Late life coupling is its own thing, not like young love or midlife marriage or dating. We are fully formed adults with pre-existing conditions, set behavior patterns, entrenched preferences, ritualized habits, a network of friends and a trove of possessions. We’ve lived a lifetime already. What you see is what you get. Don’t plan on any big changes.
When I was a teenager wanting a boyfriend, there was never the thought of whether my habits and his habits might be compatible, just a compelling curiosity about males, a drive for that first kiss and the fantasy of a tingle I didn’t understand. At 22 I hooked up with the man who became my husband, when everything about us was in development, our adult selves emerging, trade-offs not so obvious because we evolved together in the same ecosystem, entwined like saplings who fuse to become one tree, hard to separate our identities until death did us part 32 years later. Now, with this new man that I’ve known for only months, starting over in our 60s, our compatibility was the first question I had. What are the trade-offs?
I expected a rational adult process, gradually revealing ourselves and our desires, negotiating for advantage, the exchange of concessions and assurances. Just like a game show. Rose. No rose. But instead we skipped right to our first kiss, and afterward, every trade-off was measured against that feeling. I felt like a teenager again. Our chemistry lit up parts of my brain that went dark years ago, and from the moment those lights went on, I was/am compelled by a revived curiosity, willing to adjust my previously conceived ideas of relationship to accommodate this new human. I surrendered to change. Didn’t think that was possible. Surrender.
In our seventh decade, we are separate beings, mature specimens grafted together into one everyday life, sharing time and resources, connected but independent, contrasting but appreciated, consciously co-creating our new way, adapting, working around our limitations, embracing the whole person as we mind the gaps and settle into the impermanence. We’ve seen enough of life to know the perils of age, the inevitability of discord, the threats, though we may dance around them, ignore them, try to prevent them, tamp down the fear, disregard the apprehension, play and have fun as though now is forever. At this age trade-offs that might have unsettled our younger selves are balanced by the satisfaction and security we offer each other. Joy is the goal. Not status. Not style. Not achievement. Not perfection. Eyes wide open as we take this love one step at a time.