A Therapist's Guide To Finding Love In Your Golden Years
Dating in the later years of your life may be unheard of, but it certainly isn't unfulfilling.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 7, 2023
The idea of finding love later in life might seem unconventional to some. In fact, one of the key misconceptions around aging is the belief that experiences of love and sexuality inevitably diminish with time.
Contrary to popular belief, many older adults continue to experience and seek romantic relationships well into their golden years, as you might have seen on ABC's The Golden Bachelor. The need for companionship, emotional connection and intimacy remains fundamental to human well-being, regardless of age.
Here are three insights on love and sexuality in the golden years, according to research.
1. Older Adult Sexuality Has Been Ignored For Too Long
Research shows that for older individuals, a positive perception of sex and regular opportunities for sexual expression have been linked to physical and mental health benefits. However, this aspect of their lives tends to be overlooked or even dismissed by society.
A 2023 study found that older individuals may experience shame and guilt about discussing their sexuality with others due to the stigma they face. Participants reported that without these important conversations, they found it challenging to understand what is considered normal or "appropriate" sexual behavior for their age. They expressed a strong desire to live fully and to allow themselves to be seen as human beings with sexual needs.
Researchers highlighted the need for sexual health in older adults to be destigmatized. Discussions about sexual satisfaction are often redirected to potency-enhancing drugs by healthcare professionals rather than providing a much-needed space for older adults to express their sexual concerns, desires or fears.
As a society, we can all play a role in normalizing these conversations by challenging what aging means for one's romantic and sexual life.
2. Sexual And Romantic Dynamics Evolve With Age
Finding love when older often involves a shift in priorities. Research shows that while dating online, younger adults tend to highlight themselves, their achievements, attractiveness and sexuality, older adults display more positive emotions, emphasizing the importance of emotional connection and health in their profiles.
In a 2021 study, most older adults showed interest in a fun-loving and compassionate partner. Further, older adult women sought partners who were honest and would engage in leisure activities with them, whereas older men were drawn to physically attractive and emotionally supportive partners.
Additionally, research highlights the importance of emotional safety, security and open communication in older adult relationships. For some older couples, sexual activities might occupy less space in the relationship and an emotional connection based on shared interests such as socializing with friends or traveling could take precedence.
Despite a decrease in such sexual spontaneity, many older individuals view this change positively. Planning sexual activities can become a deliberate choice, leading to partners prioritizing each other's pleasure, while also communicating about sexual expectations and concerns that arise with age-related physical changes.
3. Past Experiences Are Lessons Learned
It is important to acknowledge that aging brings unique challenges. Past traumas, health concerns and the loss of previous partners can cast shadows on the path to future romance. Widows and widowers, for example, may grapple with feelings of guilt or loyalty to a deceased spouse.
A 2022 study found that one's perception of aging is influenced by transitions in and out of a marriage. Divorced or widowed individuals felt less positively about aging compared to those who stayed married. On the other hand, individuals who got married or entered a new marital relationship felt less negatively about aging than those who remained single.
Additionally, due to past experiences, many older adults are turning to cohabitation as an alternative to getting remarried. Research shows that there is no significant difference in relationship quality in both these situations.
Research in 2020 found that older women in particular may not want to remarry and instead seek a companion with whom they can maintain their autonomy and financial independence, after years of likely having caregiving obligations.
Mature love, then, has various forms and involves a deep understanding of oneself and a lifetime of lessons. Past experiences can be transformed into wisdom and the resilience of the human spirit is evident in stories of seniors who, despite facing challenges, embrace the opportunity to love and be loved again.
The pursuit of love knows no age limit. The golden years present a unique and meaningful opportunity for seniors to rediscover the joys of romantic connection. With a lifetime of experiences to draw upon, the journey to finding love and embracing sexuality later in life can be a complex but rewarding experience.