Valentine’s Day will forever remain special for latter-day lovers Jim and Grace Delday. It’s a day to be celebrated for its nearness to anniversaries of intimacy and joy.
Feb. 14 falls close to Jim’s birthday, Feb. 19, and this year he’ll be 84. Grace, now 70, remembers these things.
Valentine’s Day is also around the time the couple took their romance to the next level. Again, Grace remembers — it was seven years ago and she was 64. (Jim’s grown daughter even called her father a “cradle robber” when she heard.)
So both see Feb. 14, a day devoted to romantic love, as filled with possibilities.
“Valentine’s Day? Oh just go for it,” Jim said in an interview at a Victoria café. “Don’t let your idea of romance fail and don’t hide those feelings.”
Said Grace: “Love really is eternal and it doesn’t die when you get older.”
The Deldays, a widow and widower who married March 2, 2008, are a couple whose romantic happiness with each other is a near visible force. They say romance in late life is something special and yet it’s also the same as in their younger days.
What’s the same? Physical attraction and intimacy.
“People think that as you get older, it isn’t there, but thank goodness, it’s still there,” Grace said.
The Deldays, however, also look upon their latter-day romance as different from their more youthful relationships. It’s been far more comfortably direct and honest.
“I can talk to him about anything, anything at all,” Grace said. “When you are young, you are always worried you are going to say the wrong thing.”
The couple are part of a social element — latter-day romance, only recently addressed and recognized by gerontologists as an important element of aging.
Amanda Barusch, professor of social work at the University of Utah, a specialist in gerontology and author of Love Stories of Later Life: A Narrative Approach to Understanding Romance, said the capacity for romance remains throughout life.
But when late-life romances occur, they can be poorly understood. In some cases, they are actually discouraged by a younger generation motivated by little else than ageism, a prejudice against the elderly.
In one of her studies, Barusch quotes another gerentologist who regrets the poor understanding of romantic love among the elderly and our inability to come to terms with it.
“Loving is not encompassed by the frequency of reported sexual interests and activities. … All the ‘dirty old men’ jokes in the world do not dilute the poignancy of love and sex in later life.”
Studies and surveys have already shown people in later life are, in general, happier than in their younger days, she said.
“It’s because they have learned to focus on those things that make them happy and they know to avoid or ignore those things that don’t,” Barusch said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City.
Likewise, in romance, older people tend to be better than younger adults at navigating the regular difficulties, or conflicts, in a relationship.
“After a lifetime, they have a storage of experiences that allows them a greater ability to empathize with their partner,” Barusch said. “That really enriches late-life romance. You have people who have much more experience and much better inter-personal skills and they are getting together.”
Also, Barusch noted, older people are very aware of their mortality. Despite the knowledge that death is more imminent for them, studies show they fear death less than younger adults.
This knowledge of death and lack of fear makes them clear-sighted and direct when it comes to romance.
“It’s not so much they are in a hurry [over romance], it’s just their priorities are much more clear,” she said.
Jane Carstens, owner of Matchmaker for Hire in Victoria, Vancouver and Calgary, said this establishment of priorities makes her older clients very direct.
“My older clients will tell me, ‘I’m looking for intimacy, I’m looking for romance,’ ” Carstens said. “Even the men will say to me, ‘I’m still sexually active, you know.’
“My younger clients will say, ‘Well, I like to ski,’ ” she said. “But seniors aren’t afraid to ask for exactly what they want.”
Carstens also believes that once people are past age 65, former life challenges fall away. Careers are no longer developing. Mortgages have been paid off. Children are on their own.
“We are now looking at the ‘fun’ stage,” she said. “Someone to grow young with, is what we are really looking for, not somebody to grow old with.”
And Valentine’s Day, Carstens said, offers every man and woman, regardless of age, a chance to take real action.
“It’s a time, I think, we should take to look at ourselves and have an attitude adjustment, maybe give it a sense of adventure,” Carstens said. “Go buy a box of chocolates for someone and put together a game plan.
“It’s a good time to put some thought into that next step.”
© Copyright 2013