When a new book, Love After 50, launched on July 13, 2021 it had my full attention. After all, I was in it. The author, Francine Russo, interviewed Jim and me after learning of our marriage just before we turned 80.
This book is full of practical wisdom, born of the twice-widowed author’s two marriages and current long-term partnership, as well as true stories of many other couples she interviewed.
Jim and I knew each other nearly fifty years when we married in 2017, so I hadn’t needed to explore online dating sites and protocol to find a trustworthy mate. Still, I found those chapters fun to read. But what really engaged me about the book were the communication tips throughout.
As a journalist, Russo understands the impact of words. She identifies sensitive topics that may/will come up and offers clear model conversations. What should you talk about (and avoid) on a first date? (Hint: Don’t talk about your former spouse.)
What if you meet for coffee, and you know right away you’re not interested? If he asks to see you again, Russo suggests saying, in a kindly manner, “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, but the chemistry doesn’t feel right for a romantic relationship.” If he insists he wants to be a “friend,” Russo advises, “That’s never worked for me, I’m afraid.” (p. 107)
Russo says to be clear, firm, and as kind as possible. In her opinion, “ghosting” (just disappearing and not returning calls with no explanation) isn’t fair.
If the date is going so badly that you don’t want to finish your coffee, she advises, just look at your watch and say, “Oh, I’m afraid I have to go now.”
Those are the easy conversations. Some are much more sensitive.
For instance, if you’ve begun to date, you really like each other, and it seems like sex is on the horizon – how do you suggest you both get tested for STDs? Even tougher, what if you know you have one? How and when do you reveal it? (You MUST reveal it before you have sex.)
What if you’ve dated for several months, and now you’re sure it’s not right? She gives examples of four things you can say – without criticizing the partner. You know your partner will be hurt, so you have to summon courage. “Say kindly but firmly whatever your truth is.” She gives examples.
Russo also gives tips on how to accept rejection if you’re the one with unrequited love.
A chapter on senior sexuality is encouraging. That topic also requires sensitive talks, too.
There will be necessary conversations about other topics: where you will live, how you’ll handle money, relationships with each other’s children. How do you tell your own children there’s a new person in your life, when they may still be grieving a lost parent? What are each other’s caregiving expectations?
When Sig and I began Tough Conversations and wrote our book, Love’s Way: Living Peacefully With Your Family As Your Parents Age, we focused on intergenerational talk between aging parents and their adult kids. Love After 50, on the other hand, describes conversations within the same generation – that of the older parents.
The circumstances differ but the principles are the same: listen generously to understand the other, and share your own truth with clarity and kindness.
For more takes on the book, see the following (very different) articles: