EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Too old to fall in love? Old people in Chitungwiza speak.

By Kamurai Mudzingwa

Do the wheels of romance in our hearts grind to a halt at a certain age? Is age just a number when it comes to falling in love or is there a time in our human existence when the fire of romance in us gets exhausted to cold ashes because of chronological age?

Adult couple in a summer garden. Handsome senior in a white shirt. Woman in a hat.

Aging in our modern world is associated with the mythical horrors of lifelessness and disengagement from society both physically and emotionally. Romantic attachments are said to be inconceivable at old age. This notion of disengagement would have us believe that ageing snuffs out the fire of romance in our hearts such that we become incapacitated in the romantic department to the extent that we can no longer fall in love. This perception of old age equalling disengagement makes us wrongly perceive that naturally and acceptably so, older adults withdraw from society and personal relationships.

The Wikipedia postulates that those who believe old age is synonymous with disengagement from society view ageing as “an inevitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the aging person and others in the social system he belongs to”.

However, studies and real-life social relations have proved that the flames of romance remain an integral part of most people’s lives and even old age cannot extinguish them. Romance plays an enormous part in peoples’ lives despite age.

In fact, recent studies of romance among older adults have shown immensely surprising results. A National Poll on Aging from the University of Michigan unearthed that 72% of those aged between 65–80 years reported having a current romantic partner. One of the reasons is that humans, with or without their original partners, are instinctively drawn to romantic companionship with someone. This is despite someone’s age.

In Southern Carolina, a survey of 800 older women (55-over 80) found that those under 55 and those over 80 reportedly expressed satisfaction with their romantic lives. Remarriages among the elderly are microcosmic of the desire for romantic relationships even in our twilight years. A study by the Pew Research Centre in 2014 noted that remarriages among divorced or widowed adults aged 55 and above were on the rise with statistics showing that in 2013, 67% of previously married adults (aged 55 to 64) had remarried, up from 55% in 1960 while 50% of adults (aged 65 and older) had remarried, up from just 34% in 1960.

Romantic relations among the elderly in senior retirement communities or assisted living homes testify that one is never too old to fall in love and that the elderly among us have not lost their desire for life and their hanker for romantic love. Such communities are replete with stories of elderly residents who have met and fallen in love.

Ignatius Gutsa, in a study of the institutional care of the elderly at Bumhudza Hospital in Chitungwiza, observed interesting romantic relationships at the institution. He noted that there were blooming and booming romantic relationships where women in these relationships performed “wifely” duties for their “husbands” such as preparing dishes and doing laundry for them. In return, the smitten elderly “husbands” provide resources for their lovers such as the money to buy the ingredients for the dishes. Gutsa rightly concludes: “Thus the behavior of residents in love at Bumhudzo seems to be mirroring the larger society’s expectations of behavior that should be consistent with people in love. . .”

A survey in Chitungwiza by this writer (after purposive sampling) showed that those in romantic relationships at an elderly age were in bliss. “There is no pressure,” said one 65-year-old woman. “We met at church and we fell in love last year and that was that. He has children and grandchildren and so do I. They accept our relationship because they see we make each other happy.” The elderly man in the relationship, who was 68-years-old expressed the same sentiments.

“It is human nature,” said another elderly woman who was 60. “I love him. We met at the market and I believe it was love at first sight,” she said with a giggle.

“Love is so powerful that it defies age,” said one 70-year-old elderly woman who said she was in romantic relationship.

How do elderly people meet and fall in love? The younger generations among us may be surprised that some of the ways they meet are similar to how the elderly have met or meet their romantic partners. These settings involve dating sites, social media, worship centres, friends’ houses, personal networks, professional matchmakers, activity groups, community centres or even casual meetings!

Essentially, we should never be afraid that ageing snuffs out the romantic fire in our hearts.