A man is sleeping on a park bench. A woman approaches and badgers him to wake up and move over so she can sit down. Both are in their 60s. They begin arguing. It quickly becomes clear the pair share seminal touchstones—Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac. The sparks between Edith and Harold are so visceral one can almost spot them shooting up in the air. It’s no surprise she winds up inviting him home.
‘Meeting Harold made the pheromones stir and all of a sudden her vagina isn’t so dry.’
This is the first scene of Charles Mee’s play, First Love, about two septuagenarians with lots of romantic mileage who meet and experience the most profound connection of their lives. The award-winning playwright, who recently turned 80, married his third spouse at 65, and has said he’s found true love…finally.
Angelina Fiordellisi, who played Edith in a recent production at The Cherry Lane Theater in New York City, says of her character, “Meeting Harold made the pheromones stir and all of a sudden her vagina isn’t so dry.”
Intrigued by the play’s concept, I used my credentials as a couples therapist to win a gig conducting a Post-Performance Talk Back (which you can watch at the bottom of this article) with Angelina and her co-stars Michael O’Keefe and Taylor Harvey. For a stimulating and sometimes riotous 32 minutes, the cast and audience members enthusiastically pondered the differences between young love, which often occurs before a couple has settled into who they will become, and the mature variety.
One audience member talked about marrying at age 20 and 10 years later finding herself married to a stranger: “We looked at one another like, ‘Who are you??’” Michael O’Keefe confided how lessons from the breakup of his first marriage in 1999 to singer Bonnie Raitt infuse his current marriage: “You can’t make anybody else happy. You can only make yourself happy and share that.” An audience member delivered the perfect coda to the conversation with an anecdote proving it’s never too late for love: her great-aunt met her third husband in a nursing home!
Hours later, my mind still churned as I mused about what real-life Ediths and Harolds could teach us about love at midlife and beyond, and I set out to find some couples who had experienced first love later in life. Their stories are touching, relatable, and highly romantic.
Stephanie Hart: Nearing 60, She Cleared Out a Closet and Said, “I’m Ready for Someone”
For most of her adult life, memoirist Stephanie Hart had the “persona of someone who considers herself single.” When she was seven her parents underwent an ugly divorce. Stephanie’s mother remarried, but her daughter’s view of that union left her feeling that for a woman, marriage equaled subjugation.
Over the years Stephanie had relationships, but the New Yorker never lived with anyone—“on some level needing to keep some distance.”
In her 50s Stephanie lost her mother. For the first time a yearning for a permanent connection stirred. “I cleaned out a closet and said, ‘I’m ready for someone.’”
Through the personals, Stephanie met a lot of players, guys who just seemed interested in “meeting as many people as they could.” Dave (who prefers not to reveal his last name) was different, someone substantial.
He was a year and change removed from his second divorce. Both were content not to label their budding relationship.
Then, six months in, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He wanted to stay with Stephanie while recuperating. Luckily his illness wasn’t serious, and he soon returned to his New Jersey home.
An awareness of life’s fragility helped trump Stephanie’s fears.
A few months later Dave asked if they could live together. An awareness of life’s fragility helped trump Stephanie’s fears of Dave’s belongings permanently occupying her now empty closet. “I was ready to change my life.”
Now almost 69, Stephanie says of her extended single life: “It made me stronger to know what it was to rely on only myself.”
When she was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer two years ago, it was nice for her to have a partner to rely on. She recovered but says, “The idea that at this stage of life Dave is my support system in a way that no one has ever been is very important.”
For Stephanie, first love in the autumn of life is a lot more than knowing she has a loving nursemaid. The pair shares romance, adventure (they just returned from vacationing in Japan), and much more: “We won’t let anger and mistrust get in the way. This is not a fair-weather relationship but an all-weather one.”
Jill Breth: “Before I Die I Want to Have a Good Marriage”
Jill Breth first laid eyes on Tommy Koenig in Far Rockaway, Queens, when she was sweet 16. At 19, he was an older man. The two briefly dated but split up when he left for college, not wanting a long-distance relationship.
For the next four decades, Jill wondered how Tommy was doing. This includes the three years during her mid-30s when she was married, AKA “the worst mistake I ever made.”
In the early 1990s she went to a comedy club with friends where—wowsa!—Tommy was performing. “I told my friends, ‘I used to date that guy!’” She didn’t go backstage after the show, though, convinced Tommy would never remember her.
She’d occasionally see him doing a set on TV and sigh, “I hope he’s happy.”
‘When you find love at this stage you have to cultivate and honor it.’
Now 61, Jill recalls, “After my divorce there were 20 years of superficial dating. Nothing clicked. Once I hit menopause and knew there’d never be kids, I’d tell friends, ‘Before I die I want to at least have a good marriage.’”
The boy she couldn’t forget also hadn’t forgotten her. One day Jill received an email with the subject header: “A Blast From the Past.”
Tommy, who’d never married, lived in Manhattan while Jill was 25 miles away—by the ocean in Long Beach. For a month the two exchanged five to six lengthy emails daily. “We were catching up on 40 years of not being in touch,” Jill says.
Finally they got together at the mecca of blind dates—Starbucks. What had been mutual infatuation a lifetime ago morphed into first love for both.
They married on the bridegroom’s 60th birthday. Jill says, bemused, “I wake up every morning first grateful to still be alive, and then grateful to have another day with my husband.”
They work from home (she has bookkeeping clients and maintains her husband’s website), yet they never tire of one another’s company. “I have more time with him this way,” Jill explains.
Tommy chimes in, “When you find love at this stage you have to cultivate and honor it.”
On the couple’s anniversary the two return to the scene of their engagement—Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn—where they stand on “their” blue wooden bridge. Jill says, “There were 100 swans in the water the day he proposed.”
Alas, the swans are gone, but their love is forever.
Lynn Goodwin: Waited Until Her 60s to be Intimate With a Man
In her 20s, B. Lynn Goodwin ran an award-winning high school drama program—thinking there was all the time in the world to pursue a relationship. Her 30s were devoted to more of the same. “I wanted to take care of myself—maybe I took it to an extreme.” By the time Lynn hit her 40s, then her 50s, she felt too “embarrassed” to confide in a man that she was still a virgin.
“The longer it continued the harder to was to talk about,” says the California-based author of Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. Thus, while Lynn, who also runs www.writeradvice.com, had the occasional coffee date and good platonic friendships, she remained committed to her hard-won self-sufficiency. “I was guarded to put it mildly,” she admits.
But there was a “curiosity about what an intimate relationship would be like.” In 2011 she met Richard Brown on Craigslist. Lynn recalls, “I’d responded to a lot of dating ads, but this guy was different. He genuinely seemed interested in me. It made me trust him.”
On their second date—a breakfast get-together—Richard, a two-time widower, asked if she’d ever had an intimate relationship. For the first time Lynn felt comfortable giving a truthful answer.
Richard was unfazed. “He was shopping for his third wife,” Lynn says. “Someone religious since she’d be a pastor’s wife.”
When he asked if she’d ever had an intimate relationship, Lynn felt comfortable giving a truthful answer for the first time.
Lynn quickly grew to care for this man, who was funny and upfront (he admitted he smoked) and who asked the right questions and seemed genuinely interested in her answers. “It felt good to feel special and be intimate with someone.”
Especially someone who was comfortable caretaking his partner. Lynn says, “I have fibromyalgia, arthritis, balance issues … I don’t walk well.”
On their first Valentine’s Day together, Richard told Lynn that if they didn’t get married it would soon be time for him to move on.
While understandably hesitant to “take this leap into the void,” Lynn was also increasingly ready “to fill the gaping hole in my life.”
Now married six and a half years, the 69-year-old Lynn marvels at how her life has changed: “I’m a stepmother to seven kids and grandmother to 15. They’re all high energy!”
She still retains the all-important self-sufficiency. “We share expenses—I don’t pay his business bills and he doesn’t pay mine. I also don’t iron shirts, and Richard understands.”
While there are no regrets over her years of solitude, she embraces the way her life has opened up. “I’m so glad I had the courage to move forward.”
Check out the author’s Post-Performance Talk Back of “First Love” with Angelina and her co-stars Michael O’Keefe and Taylor Harvey below!
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a NYC-based therapist, author of three relationship self-help books and editor of the anthology How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch. She has contributed to many publications including New York, Washington Post, This Week, Reader’s Digest, Observer and vox.com.