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Silver Threads: Senior romances

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The romantic sensibilities of seniors — if not their sex lives — got some space in the newspapers thrown on my lawn last week.

The first headline to catch the eye ran above the “Ask Amy” column, just under the TV listings: “Wife wants to know if it’s OK to date if husband has Alzheimer’s.” My immediate reaction was “No! No! No! How could you?”

Until I read her letter. She’d cared for her husband at home until the job became physically impossible and then found a nursing facility for him. “My husband always seems happy to see me,” she wrote, “but has no idea who I am.”

In her answer, Amy quoted a journalist who wrote a book on this subject. In it, he requested, “Don’t judge until you walk a mile in my shoes.” He and the woman who was to become his second wife had cared tenderly for the Alzheimer’s patient until her death.

Another headline played off the title of that best-selling novel featuring almost unbelievably frequent and lengthy sessions of kinky sex. Under “Sixty Shades of Gray” was a review of a play now running at Teatro Wego in Westwego. The comedy, “Sex Please, We’re Sixty,” was well reviewed and runs through Sunday.

Actresses Maggie Smith and Judi Dench got the next great headline, “Faded Petals, Green Shoots,” in a review of their Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sequel. (Sure, there are others in the cast of the movie, but aren’t these two particularly appealing?) The green shoots burst forth when co-star Richard Gere enters the door of their hostelry in India. That kind of appreciation for the charisma and beauty of the opposite sex never goes away no matter how faded the petals of those affected.

“Youngsters’’ of 50 and 60 are often surprised to learn of romance in retirement homes, assisted living and — yes — even nursing homes. I imagine that a 16- or 17-year-old’s reaction would be "Yuck!” even though their views of loving elders may have been somewhat enhanced by the beautiful, handsome and well-preserved actors playing the parts of seniors for Viagra commercials on television. They do know, however, that not many grandmas and grandpas look like this.

(A website that I saw in looking for the origin of the quote — “There may be snow on the roof but there is fire in the furnace” — featured a photo of a waay over the hill and not well tended couple and posed the question, “Why don’t Viagra ads use these kinds of people?”)

About 15 years ago my husband and I gave a party for the beautiful mother of a friend and the attractive man she’d met in a retirement home and married. She was 83 and he was slightly older. Both are deceased now, but their union had served them well.

Then I learned that a substantial number of seniors choose to share rooms in such facilities, partly for companionship and partly for economy. Sharing a room in such a place is cheaper, and sometimes that matters.

A retired Protestant minister who was considering taking the job of administering one such place was asked would he object to such arrangements without marriage. His answer was “not at all,” a prudent and realistic one, I think.

At a certain age, companionship — especially after a lifetime of it — is what matters most. The woman who wrote the letter to Ask Amy needed that to endure her future. So did the man who wrote the book that Amy quoted. If it led to romance, that’s natural, and the concern only of those involved.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]