By Ashley Johnson, M.A.
It was New Year’s Eve 2018, and my best friend and I had just finished our semi-traditional dinner at the nearby Crab Shack. My nana lived not too far from the restaurant. It had been almost three years since she moved out of her home of more than 30 years and downsized to a chic one-bedroom apartment. My grandfather was her protector and best friend and after he passed away in 2012, she grieved as gracefully as she could and eventually began to learn how to love after loss.
I made a phone call to her that evening, “Hey, I’m in the area. Can I stop by to freshen up before I go out tonight?” My call was a courtesy, as I had a key to her apartment. I respected her independence and often basked in awe of her new and brave journey of moving to a new city, making friends and joining social groups. I was not expecting her response: “Can’t you stop at a fueling station? I have company. DO NOT come by.”
My surprise was less about her denial to my visitation request and more about her “special company” that took precedence over her favorite granddaughter. Clearly, this was a special night for her. With mixed emotions, I replied, “OK, have fun and be safe. Love you.”
Love and romance in later life are often seen and referred to as comical, impractical and overall non-existent. However, research shows that there are a variety of positive impacts and possibilities when it comes to late life lovers. Researchers, such as Amanda Barusch, who specializes in the experiences of older adults, conclude that love is seen as a force for change:
• The feelings and experiences accompanying late romantic love create opportunities for personal insight; it teaches us about ourselves, our needs and our vulnerabilities.
• Love can be used as training for relationship skills; we learn to adapt, compromise and reciprocate; in later life, we learn to confront boundaries of personal control and let go.
• Love often reveals our unknown capabilities and stretches us beyond our comfort zone.
• Late love provides the opportunity for self-reflection and proves that romance is truly a testament that we are still growing.
Love is in the air here in Alexandria. I encourage you to explore love after loss or maybe even discover it for the first time. Join a social group, a book club or a wine-tasting class. One important lesson learned from my Nana is that companionship is necessary and desired. So let’s dispel the myths and defeat stereotypes of dating and love in later life.
The writer is deputy division chief and longterm care coordinator for the city’s Division of Aging and Adult Services.