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Falling in Love Again: When 61 Feels Like 16

Following her divorce, Jeannie Ralston fell in love again. Nothing made her feel more alive—or younger. MUCH younger.

I was never in love as an actual teenager. I had mild crushes and dated a lot in high school and college. But I was always reserved, knowing in some part of my brain that I didn’t want to get attached to someone who would want me to follow him to some school or job. Or in some other way, dictate the shape of my life and future.

So I never drew hearts around our initials, or swooned when his name was spoken, or played “our song” in delicious rapture.

For those heady moments, I’d wait until I was 61, when I fell in love for the second time in my life following a divorce from the first love of my life.

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New Intensity

I met my new love in the most romantic way, under a starry sky in the high desert of West Texas. Coming a few months after my divorce became final, he was a godsend. After more than 30 years with one man—and almost two years of unwanted chastity—my new man introduced me to the land of the living…and lusting. I was completely smitten, with his looks, his humor, his apparent infatuation with me.

My romantic playlists sustained me through countless bike rides, car trips, airplane flights, and evenings alone.

Even though I saw him only sporadically—we lived hundreds of miles apart—I was totally devoted to him and began to exhibit all the tell-tale signs of puppy love. A song—Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart”—that was playing when we had lunch on our first weekend together became central to my life. I played it over and over again. Even though the song didn’t have the most positive view of love, I could not get enough of it. Each note transported me back to the small cafe where we sat outside, testing our feelings for each other.

But I wasn’t satisfied with just one song. I compiled a playlist of love songs—everything from Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” to The Spinners’s “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” I entitled that playlist “Heart.” Before I saw him a second time, I streamlined the playlist to songs I thought he’d like as well. I edited out any Motown and pop, keeping it to more edgy songs like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” I named that playlist with his initials.

Those two playlists sustained me through countless bike rides, car trips, airplane flights, and evenings alone. My heart ached with each note, conjuring up images of moments we had spent together.

I took on other silly habits. My eyes danced and I smiled lasciviously when I uttered his name to friends. I adopted a quirky way of saying “boyfriend,” as if I was a Southern belle thinking of her intended. I put photos of the two of us together in a file on my desktop, and opened it up to look at them way too often.

In almost all conversations, I found a way to tell people I had a new love. I knew I was ridiculous and didn’t care. I imagined the eye rolls behind my back, but again, I couldn’t stop myself. I was told I had a real glow, and I went through my day with new vigor, actually feeling my heart thump at times with the thought of him.

No Regrets

falling in love after 50

Several months into our relationship, when he was visiting me, he told me he loved me. Knowing I shouldn’t be too easy, I responded with, ‘I’m not sure if I’m in love or in lust.”

He smiled and said, “Maybe a little of both.”

He had that same answer when later I said, “I’m not sure if I’m in love or in love with being in love.”

I tried to temper my feelings to no avail. I was a hopeless case, and all my friends and family knew it.

I was a hopeless case, and all my friends and family knew it.

It’s not entirely surprising that a long distance relationship, freighted with such giddy expectations, didn’t survive. In addition to the distance, we had to work around his demanding work schedule and my own. When a long-planned two-week vacation became one week because he couldn’t take a longer break from the  new house he was building, I could barely contain my disappointment. When the one-week vacation went away entirely because he came down with a nasty case of COVID, I didn’t even try. I never blamed him for that of course, but it simply became clear that I couldn’t handle the long distance plus what felt like relentless unavailability. I’d waited two months to see him, and would have to wait another two months, at least, till our calendars lined up again.

We ended the relationship a week ago, seven months after we first met. I was teary but, to be honest, not unprepared. I knew the odds were stacked against us, but even more so, I wasn’t sure I should fall for the very first man I met after a long marriage. At one point, I had even started mining the dating apps, but had little luck because I was wearing my-heart-belongs-to-another blinders. Now, I’d have to try again, without the blinders.

Dancing to a New Tune

Still, in the end, I felt so much gratitude to him for pulling me out of the sexual and romantic sterility of my marriage and its aftermath. I’ve come to realize there is nothing more life-affirming, nothing that makes you feel more vibrantly human, than being in love.

Nothing makes you feel more vibrantly human than being in love.

A friend of mine, whom I usually consider something of a cynic, had a surprising take on the thrill of romantic possibilities at our age. “I had the most amazing first date with a new man, and a week later I had the worst date with him. It was devastating, but that week of joy and excitement, considering what could be was well worth it.”

Similarly, I wouldn’t give anything for the intensity of the last seven months, even if I maybe made a fool of myself to anyone who would listen to my dreamy descriptions of my new man. To know you are able to feel such powerful emotions again at our age, to lust, love, crave, yearn at almost unbearable levels is a blessing.

Since the break up, I’ve stayed away from my two romantic playlists. When I was on a walk three days ago, I was fishing around for something to listen to and came upon a playlist I’d made of great female singers. The first song made me realize there was a whole genre of music I could now have on rotation to salve my heart. The break up song.

As I made my way along a deserted hiking path, I sang out loud along with Adele:

“The scars of your love remind me of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love they leave me breathless
I can’t help feeling
We could’ve had it al-l-l-l-l.”
By Jeannie Ralston


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