I have a widowed aunt who fell in love at 75 — blissfully, contentedly — and I adore what that says about the human spirit. Amazingly, she met a man who lived in her small town and was also retired. Not only were the logistics simple, but she was also lucky enough to have had a long and happy marriage as her foundation for love this second time around.
The idea that we can start over personally and professionally at any age is motivating, exhilarating and not to be underestimated. But our ability to reinvent (despite the myriad self-help books that make it sound like a snap) is highly dependent on individual circumstances.
You can start over if the disruption is minimal, as was the case for my aunt. You can start over if your bank account supports your dreams, or if extended family will serve as a safety net. You can start over if you aren’t tied to children still popping in and out of the proverbial nest, or without elderly parents that rely on your proximity for assistance.
Starting over in love has its own special rules. It requires that you trust your heart, particularly if logistics and finances come with complications. And this is where I struggle in my own life — not with the man I love, but with trust — trust in my judgment, trust in our institutions, trust in the future.
The man in my life possesses a decidedly optimistic view. This is a matter of his temperament and also his marital and divorce history, as well as his employment circumstances. All are dramatically different from my own, and a large part of his realistic but rosy perceptions. So while I’ve trusted him more than I’ve trusted any man in years — I trust him with my good days and bad, my victories and disappointments — I do not trust tomorrow as I’m trying to make my way through today.
When it comes to love, I think about trust in degrees. There’s trusting enough to say those three little words, trusting enough to introduce a man to your kids, trusting enough to be viewed as a couple by friends and colleagues, trusting enough to live together — and the brass ring, whatever your age — trusting enough to make the whole thing legal.
In the past two years, I’ve lived with my guy on a part-time basis, and it’s gone well. Occasionally, he brings up the issue of taking the relationship to the next logical step. Most women would be thrilled, and I am, too, insofar as this tells me the depth of his feelings. But these conversations leave me anxious. I hesitate and I hedge.
I was in my thirties when I first walked down the aisle, convinced my groom and I had an excellent shot at success. I trusted my husband, I trusted my judgment and I trusted the institution of marriage. But 20 years later, I’m acutely aware that life after divorce has eroded my trust in fundamental ways.
I know what it is to wake up to someone I no longer recognize. I know what it is to lose all faith.
Living together? I could do that, as long as it didn’t mean leaving my home behind — the home I’ve fought so hard to keep, and for now, the only home my sons can return to.
Marriage? I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready, though I won’t say I haven’t considered it, and “never say never” is an adage I believe in. The reasons for my hesitation (and mistrust) are pragmatic. After all, my highest earning years are behind me and statistics on gray divorce are damning; women disproportionately suffer in terms of finances and health.
It’s logical: finding employment is harder, lifelong social security earnings are lower and many of us may still be dealing with kids, debts and other family obligations — not to mention the increasing likelihood of our own medical issues.
“Ah,” you will say to me. “But there are never any guarantees. Time is precious. Why not seize the day?”
And there I smile and think about the good man who loves me. Still, by loving him as I do and trusting by degrees, aren’t I already seizing the day? By the time we hit midlife, shouldn’t we be allowed to configure our lives as we wish?
I trust the love that exists between us today and, no doubt, I will trust my judgment more as time goes by. But I cannot predict a schedule for that trust any more than I can the outcome. Given my history, experience and stage in life, “carpe diem” isn’t nearly as relevant as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”