Romance for the middle-aged

I wrote in 2009 about the perils of entering the dating game in the 40s and 50s, revisiting the teenage years post-divorce with the benefit or otherwise of extra knowledge and desires.  It seems only fair and logical to take it to the second base and blog about romance second, third (or however many) time around.

Worth saying that much of what follows would apply equally to gay or straight people who have come from a long relationship and are now starting again on the first steps towards romance – as opposed to flirting with a wide range of possible partners, sleeping around and every other form of non-committed behaviour: here we are talking about getting back into the world of an equal and exclusive relationship between two people.

We all love romance, but you have to do it for the right reasons – to be positive about a relationship because you love the person and want to stay with them for the rest of your life, not because they happen to be the best available and will put up with you.  Lots of people around my age group are incredibly lonely.  You even hear people say that they don’t want to die alone, which is a sobering thought when you’re 50-something going on 18!

In fact, finding romance (as opposed to transactional, tangential relationships) under these conditions may be more akin to an obstacle course.  This is all the more true when you allow for the rise of Internet dating and the probability that the person you end up falling for, after a long period of trial and error, will live some distance away.  Now I’ve done more than my fair share of long-distance relationships, and certainly they can succeed – but it takes plenty of effort, perseverance and energy.

Bear in mind that with the encroaching years from the first flings of youthful exuberance to returning as divorcees, gay or otherwise, we are very different people.  When we first set out on love’s true course we are inevitably young, naive, filled with hope and have, generally, parents and family watching over us for our own good – though our path is our own.  Now, we have careers and commitments to worry about, mortgages to pay, children (and in some cases grandchildren) demanding our attention, money and taxi-driving services.  How can two people possibly find time for romance in the face of all these distractions, quite apart from anything else?

This hardly makes for good romance of the traditional kind whereby one meets one’s partner and goes out for dates, during which time you can talk, take in eye contact, body language, brushes of skin against skin, all the stuff we know we should do.  More likely you will end up with rushed meetings when diaries coincide, which is decidedly not conducive to forming the basis for a long-term relationship.

The second main obstacle is that we no longer have the benefit of innocence.  We have been hurt in the ensuing years.  We fear that we will be just another case of history repeating itself and that, one way or another, we will be hurt again.  Men are always men, women are always women, we each have motivations, we all tell tall tales, we manoeuvre for what we want.  How can anybody possible trust one another?  Strangely we do, sometimes perversely so – which would be great if we all fell for the right people, though often we fall for precisely the wrong people who treat us badly and hurt us yet again. And so the cycle continues.  Trust is a fragile flower – incredibly hard to earn and so easy to kill for good.

But even if we find and nurture a relationship with a good and decent person, it’s never easy.  By middle age we have conquered some of the butterflies of early years.  We have knowledge and self-assurance on our side and love to play it cool, but the downside is that we are a mass of insecurities.  We worry about all manner of stuff; no matter how much we feign nonchalance, we care deeply what people think of us, and boy, do we love to be loved!  This in turn impacts our outward behaviour, conscious and unconscious, and how we treat other people.

It’s a minefield for a partner – knowing what subjects to avoid, turns of phrase that invoke bad memories, anything that makes for bad communications and conflict.  It’s a learning curve, which a sensitive lover will climb with patience and devotion.  You can grow together if you want… or grow apart.  As the cliché has it, a relationship is a matter of give and take, though how often is it one party giving and the other taking?  Way too often, for sure.

The well-documented reality is that we become more set in our ways with age, and probably less inclined to compromise our lifestyle and funny little ways, which makes it all the harder to conduct a romance in the time-honoured fashion.  Accommodating one another’s idiosyncratic behaviours can lead to many arguments, which often are never solved – they remain an open wound in the relationship, which one party or other will harp back on when the urge arises.  You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.

All part of life’s rich lottery, but the secret for success surely must be communication.  You have to make the effort to meet as often as possible, then communicate by MSN, email, telephone, whatever medium works best.  But then again, I’ve known couples who occupy the same house who don’t communicate that much – it’s about attitude and working at it.  Remember you used to love that person?

So why bother?  Is it worth all this pain and suffering?  Well if you’ve ever had the soaring feeling of being in love, like you’re walking six inches above the pavement, you’d say any pain and suffering are worthwhile if you can enjoy that heady whirling sensation of romance.  In view of the pain, we might often wonder why we bother, but the fact that there is hope keeps us going.  The alternative is too depressing to contemplate: Remember the Simon & Garfunkel song, I Am A Rock?  It’s about loneliness but it sounds to me like a vision of hell:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

So the moral of the tale is this:  no matter how difficult it seems, never give up – keep trying, persevere, be forgiving and loving.  It’s worth it, and it shows you’re human.

3 thoughts on “Romance for the middle-aged”

  1. Such a deep moving piece of work Andy. As you rightly say at our ages we all have baggage from past experiences. We all have a history some not as good or pleasnat as others. It is most definatly about compromise and communication. I for one was so lonely in may marriage because the communication had long disappeared to be replaced by anger and hate.
    We all strive for a better union in later life so as we are not alone in this world. Our children fly the nest and remember us occassionally. Our friends are always there but it is not the same as having a partner to laugh with, share touching moments and most of all good company.

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