The search for love is pretty well universal. But does it get any different as we get older?
“In psychological terms, no,” says Jo Hemmings, who’s a behavioural and media psychologist and relationship coach. “But there’s likely to be a different agenda – or perhaps no agenda at all.”
Looking for love when we are young may (however unconsciously) actually be a search for a partner to start a family with, someone who will be a great parent or good provider. We may put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our partner to be “perfect”; we may hold out for a great romantic love. Love in later life is likely to be more pragmatic, with a stronger lean towards companionship.
“You know your own values when you’re older, you know what it is you’re looking for and you’re more likely to be reasonably content with life as it is,” says Hemmings. “Love is just the icing on the cake.”
The search for love
Finding love is never easy, and there’s no getting away from the fact that it gets harder as we get older. Part of this is our own mindset; we might be less willing to compromise, or too bruised by past experiences to try again. We might feel there’s no point, as we can never repeat the passion of earlier relationships. Part of this, for women, is the reality that there are more women around than men as we age.
“It is a tougher ride for women, but don’t let that put you off,” says Hemmings, who recommends using all the arrows in Cupid’s quiver, including dating apps. “Don’t dismiss them as only for young people – it’s an option to try,” she says. “Don’t be put off by stories of ‘catfishing’ [when someone creates a fake persona to con you]; it’s less common than you think. Do a Google search; many people will come up, and you can see if the person is who they say they are.”
Importantly, she recommends starting a new relationship slowly and gradually.
“Keep it simple, speak on the phone first and then go for a coffee – don’t make big plans,” she says.
“A new romance is unlikely to be with the first person you meet. Be prepared for it to be a bit of a patchy journey – at the very least you’ll have some great stories to tell your friends!”
Having important conversations
But there can be other hurdles to negotiate, once you feel confident in your new relationship. While it may have been your parents who disapproved when you were younger, it may well be your children in later life. It can be tough for children to accept a parent’s new partner; some see the new love as an interloper in the family, others may worry for their inheritance. Sara McLeish from Legal & General recommends opening the lines of communication early.
“Having small conversations early is fantastic, rather than having a big and potentially traumatic conversation forced upon you,” she says.
“Get things clear beforehand; make sure you have a will in place. It’s really important to think about gifting – good inheritance planning isn’t just about what you leave behind, and for a lot of people it can make far more sense to gift money while still alive.”
A new partner means it’s even more critical to face any financial issues honestly and openly. Money is a notoriously difficult subject, but not discussing it can raise suspicions and create more problems than it solves. You need to be clear not only with children, but also with your new love.
“You can get a sense of someone quite quickly – are they a saver or a spender?” says Hemmings. “Being older and wiser, you might decide you want to keep your financial independence, rather than merge your finances.”
Considering care needs in later life
The conversations can get tougher when two families are blended together. Both you and your partner need to be clear about the potential cost of care needs further down the line, and who will be making decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. These can be difficult matters to discuss, but will be infinitely harder to talk about, if the conversations aren’t begun until a crisis hits.
“Make sure you have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place, and that everyone understands what your wishes are,” advises McLeish. “If you can afford financial advice, that’s incredibly valuable; but there are free resources too, to help you understand your options.”
And finally, don’t put your life on hold in the search for love; if anything, you’re more likely to find someone when you are happy and content.
“Do the things that make you happy – join a club, take up a new hobby, get out and socialise. You will then be at your best when you meet somebody,” says Hemmings. “Even if it doesn’t bring you love, the journey may be worth it in itself. Love should be a bonus in your life.”
To hear more from Jo and Sara, listen to our Rewirement podcast episode, Love and relationships in retirement.