Nancy Cahners

Old-people love: We’re not dead yet!

Thoughts for Tu B'Av: Being aware that we don't have forever to fill gives our relationships that now-or-never feeling
Me and Mr. Wonderful (Photo: Nancy Cahners)
Me and Mr. Wonderful (Photo: Nancy Cahners)
Screenshot of application for a dating app for “boys and girls aged 60+”
(Screenshot:Nancy Cahners)

It happened again yesterday. Some sales guy referred to Bill as my husband, and Bill said what he always says, “We’re not married.”

I wish Bill would just ignore it and let people assume what they want about us. It makes the other person apologize, embarrassed, or perhaps afraid they have embarrassed us.

But I’m not one bit embarrassed. In fact, I get a mischievous kick out of being old and in love. I remember how I used to I think about old couples when I was younger: asexual, plodding along in established routines. Sweet, but not a lot of fire. It makes me giggle to think how horrified young people would be if they only knew.

In fact, I’m not sure what words to use to explain “us” even to myself. He’s 83 and I’m 73, so girlfriend/boyfriend feels ludicrous. Friend seems inadequate. Lover, too intimate. Partner, too ambiguous.

And as for getting married, why bother? We’re not blending our lives the way newly marrieds do. We already have our children and careers and memories and things to do that don’t include or even appeal to the other.

Mostly, when I refer to him, I call him my Mr. Wonderful. It feels lighthearted and affectionate. And very much in the moment. No planning for the future. Just being right here, right now!

Which is how you have to be when you know one of you could die at any moment.

And this, Dear Reader, is the dark gift of Old People Love: Death.

We need a name that honors the now-or-never immediacy that Death bestows on our connection. A name that doesn’t bludgeon us with the immensity of the losses coming our way. And that doesn’t insult us by pretending that we have forever to fill.

We need a description that recognizes our amazing good luck in finding each other at this late stage. A name that accepts that the path ahead is much shorter than the path behind. A name that doesn’t ignore advancing infirmity and still celebrates that we ain’t dead yet!

Maybe all couples of a certain age realize they will someday need to cope with incapacity. He and I talk about how to avoid burdening each other “when the time comes”– as if it will be a moment we can pinpoint, a switch that will flip. So far, no good answers; and the closer we get to each other, the less likely we’ll find one.

There’s got to be a way to express how this relationship feels old and new at the same time; we’re still discovering and growing with each other, made wiser from lots of experience and—like I said—the knowledge that it’s all going to end, but thank God, hasn’t yet!

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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