You don’t have to look very far this time of year to see red hearts and special events focused on love and relationships. It’s all around us and whether you recognize the day or you don’t, you would be hard pressed to avoid all of the hoopla and attention focused on love and “couples.”
The desire to love and be loved, to be part of a “couple,” does not end when individuals reach later life, even when living in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Certainly, for some, there have been long time relationships and they are content to live with their memories and their history. But for others, having someone in that kind of close relationship continues to matter and we see people gravitate towards each other and become an “item” just as if they were much younger and living independently.
Romantic love is, for many people, a basic human need, yet too often we fail to recognize that it not only exists in our older adults, it is their right to be able to experience it and express it. Whether the relationship is platonic or physical, it is still deeply meaningful and important to both parties.
So why do we hear so many objections to this idea for older adults? Folks will wrinkle up their noses in disgust at the idea of older adults connecting in this way as if age suddenly put a stop to those feelings. In some cases, families will also object to a relationship, perhaps because they have concerns about their parent’s connection with another person, perhaps because of their own fears.
I am familiar with a situation in which a couple lived in an assisted living setting. The wife passed away and the husband, who had some dementia, was bereft, looking for her constantly. Some months later, a woman moved into the same building who had been widowed relatively recently. The two of them connected over their losses and, over the course of a few weeks, began to be inseparable as a couple. They still lived in their separate apartments but spent their days together and could often be seen sitting on a couch, talking quietly and holding hands.
The woman’s daughter was delighted to see her mother happy and comforted but the man’s family had the opposite reaction. They expressed fear that this woman might want to marry their father; that this might disrupt their lives (and their inheritance) and they wanted the relationship stopped. They demanded that the assisted living “break them up.”
There were conversations with the woman and her daughter, asking that there be a little space in their togetherness and they were both upset and embarrassed by the conversation but agreed to cooperate with the other family’s wishes. Within 24 hours, the man whose family had intervened told the staff, in no uncertain terms, that he was still fully capable of deciding with whom he spent his time and how. In the end, the family had to let the relationship continue and it did, for several years, enriching both individual’s lives.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, love is in the hearts of the individuals involved, regardless of age and circumstances. After all, isn’t that what love truly is all about?