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It was a warm, humid night on Koh Samui, an island in one of the many seas that make up Thailand. I was there doing research for a book on the world's most romantic places (Shameless plug alert: Coming soon, "Perfect Places for Passion at Any Age," for Frommers in collaboration with AARP.) We were staying at a gorgeous resort and after dinner my boyfriend suggested that we walk down to the beach.
The white sand, scimitar beach was beautiful by daylight and magical by moonlight. It was also lit by blazing lanterns dug into the sand, placed about every 10 ft. from one another. The effect was classically romantic: Palm trees and torches defined the curve of the beach, a slight breeze relieved the humidity in the air and waves lapped at our feet as we walked down to the water's edge. Fred turned to me, dropped down to one knee, and proposed.
Moved and thrilled, I said "Yes." We kissed.
You've seen movies like this, but no so many for people our age, post 65. Hollywood seems to have recently realized that older people can be romantic, but we only need about three fingers on one hand to count movies with this theme. Well, no big deal -- we all know that Hollywood is a bit uncomfortable with romance over 40 much less 60 plus.
However, I was a bit surprised by the responses I received from friends when I emailed them with the news. The winner of the most common response was "OMG!" Second place: "WOW!" Third place: "How brave of you." Huh?
Well, perhaps a methodologist would not approve of writing a cultural analysis based on these three reactions, but I'm going to take a stab at it anyhow.
First, I think people are a bit shocked when older people not only fall in love, but want to get married. Second, age mates are surprised that anyone would want to get married given the economic complications of marriage in the last quartile of life. And third, I think that many people feel that risking your heart at an advanced age is "brave" because if things go wrong (and by this time of life we are well aware that love can disappear) the time for recovery is increasingly short-and where does it leave you?
These are fair cautions. So why are we getting married when we could not be more fully cognizant of these issues?
Well there are two simple answers: First, we are passionately in love, and there is no other promise to another person that so completely states your mutual intention to take care of each other for a lifetime; and second, there is no other statement that emotionally changes how you personally absorb the enormity of this promise.
Now a caveat here: I know people who don't need marriage to do this for their relationship. I have known gay couples, especially before gay marriage was even conceivable, much less legal, who did commitment ceremonies, put property in each other's name, and in short, did everything possible to give gravitas and stability to their relationship. And I have known long-term heterosexual cohabiters that look back at "30 years of being happily unmarried," who felt that the lack of an institutional and legal commitment helped, not hurt their relationship. So, let a thousand flowers bloom. I'm not the person who thinks everyone should get married.
But I knew that I needed it. I know the minute Fred and I made a commitment to each other that we were in a different space than the six years that preceded our moment on the beach. The ambitiousness of our relationship tripled for me, and for the first time I felt we had a joint purpose about who we would be together.
Granted, the government puts some significant barriers in our way. We may wait awhile given the unhappy additional tax burden the IRS gives to married couples. There are other economic costs as well that will affect our planning. But none of these will affect our ultimate conclusion: Love after 65 is as important as it ever was. It is as passionate as it ever was. And the move to bind our lives together in a legal and public announcement is as satisfying and meaningful as it ever was.
Hey, Hollywood, make a movie about that!!!
Dr. Schwartz answers readers questions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Submit your questions here. Read of Pepper's columns here. Follow Pepper on Twitter @pepperschwartz.